Posts Tagged ‘Military science fiction’

(Insurgence by Ken Macleod front coverThe Corporation Wars: Insurgence, by Ken Macleod. Orbit, 2016, 331 pp., $9.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

Insurgence, the brand new second installment in Ken Macleod’s Corporation Wars trilogy, resolves issues left hanging in the first book, Dissidence.

Insurgence settles the matter of what’s real and what’s virtual in the Corporation Wars universe, and also clearly reveals the nature of one of the two antagonistic political factions, the Reaction, or Rax. They’re essentially the alt-right: racist, abusive, self-seeking propertarians who regard other people as “potential slaves.” (As in Dissidence, there’s frustratingly little in Insurgence on the nature of the Rax’s opponents, the Acceleration, or Axle.)

Like its predecessor, Insurgence is a page-turner, akin to what another reviewer termed an “airport bookshop thriller.” There’s enough intrigue and more than enough well described combat scenes to satisfy even the most hardcore military sci-fi fans.

Along the way, we get to know both the trilogy’s protagonist, Carlos, and the rebellious, sentient robots, the “freebots,” quite a bit better. As well, there’s a lengthy, quite plausible section showing how a cult of personality can emerge in even the most seemingly progressive political movements.

Like the first book in the series, Dissidence, Insurgence doesn’t work as a stand-alone novel. Instead, it reveals the nature of the conflict, reveals more of the nature of the conflicting parties, and sets the stage for the conclusion of the trilogy.

Recommended (but only after you’ve read Dissidence).

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(Reviewer Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on its sequel. A large sample from Free Radicals, in pdf form, is available here.)

Free Radicals front cover




End of All Things cover(The End of All Things, by John Scalzi. Tor, 2015, 380 pp., $24.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

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This seems as if it’s the end of Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” series–and if it isn’t, it should be. (From the title–and the author’s apparent weariness in several places–one suspects it will be.)

The original trilogy (Old Man’s War [2005], The Ghost Brigades [2006], and The Lost Colony [2007]) was a refreshing take on military sci-fi, distinguished by how well the books were written, their likable, somewhat complex characters, the ethical ambiguity of the characters’ actions, the inventiveness of the technology described, and the complexity of the political machinations the books outline. At the end of the trilogy, Scalzi indicated he was going to take a break from it.

The series’ popularity, however, seemed to inspire him–likely after prodding from his publisher–to crank out additional books set in the same universe. At that point, things started to go downhill. Zoe’s Tale [2008] followed the year after the final book of the trilogy, and it’s basically just a YA take on The Lost Colony.

The next “novel” in the series, The Human Division, appeared in 2013. It was a print collection of what had been 13 discreet, previously released e-“books” (in reality, e-short stories). It continued the trilogy’s tale in a more or less linear fashion, but was far from cohesive. Worse, it didn’t play fair with the reader: it revolved around a central, gut-wrenching question, and never resolved it, ending on a cliffhanger.

Which brings us to the latest book, The End of All Things. Like The Human Division, it’s a collection of previously published e-books, though it’s a bit more cohesive than The Human Division, largely because it has fewer “episodes,” to use the term from The Human Division, even though the four novellas  reproduced in The End of All Things have four different p.o.v. characters, quite probably for the sake of the author’s convenience.

The first novella, “The Life of the Mind,” resolves the cliffhanger from The Human Division in satisfying manner, and really, in fairness to the reader, should have been The Human Division‘s concluding chapter.

The following two novellas, “This Hollow Union” and “Can Long Endure,” serve to set the stage for the conclusion of The End of All Things by describing the situation in the (alien) Conclave and the (human) Colonial Union as they deal with the situation outlined in “The Life of the Mind.” Of the two, “Can Long Endure” is much more engaging as its p.o.v. character is easier to relate to, there are many good action sequences in it, and it deals with an intriguing political question–is it right, or even useful, to use coercion, violence, and dishonesty for political ends, no matter how necessary those ends might seem.

In contrast, “This Hollow Union” deals only with legislative political intrigue and maneuvering–things I strongly suspect most readers are thoroughly sick of–and has nothing new or interesting to say about them.

The final novella, “To Stand or Fall,” neatly wraps up all of the questions set in motion in The Human Division. One can easily imagine Scalzi breathing a sigh of relief after writing “To Stand or Fall’s” final words, realizing he’ll never have to write another word about this “universe.”

Recommended only for those who have read all of the previous books in the Old Man’s War series.

(If you’ve never read any of Scalzi’s novels, the Old Man’s War trilogy is well worth reading–but don’t bother with The End of All Things, Zoe’s Tale, or The Human Division; I’d recommend even more highly  Scalzi’s intelligent, very funny comic novels Fuzzy Nation, Agent to the Stars, and Red Shirts, and strongly hope for more such novels from Scalzi.)

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s finally making good progress on the sequel.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover


War Dogs, by Greg Bear(War Dogs, by Greg Bear. New York: Orbit, 2014, 291 pp.,  $25.00)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon


War Dogs  is the first book in Greg Bear’s brand new military sci-fi series. It’s a mixed bag. On the positive side, the military action is very well described. And there’s a lot of it. Bear also does a fine job of describing the sheer misery of a soldier’s life, and the terror, callousness, boredom, and resignation it entails.

On the negative side, the writing style is hard to take; it’s seemingly the mutant literary offspring of an unholy union of Ernest Hemingway and Mike Hammer.

Sentences are short.  Sentence fragments. Very simple vocabulary. Dropped pronouns. All over the place.  Cringe-inducing jargon:  “sparkly” (weapons fire in space); “Skyrines” (Marines in space); “the Red” (rather than Mars). This quickly becomes monotonous.  Tedious.

I’m exaggerating, but only slightly.  Here’s a paragraph from pages 15/16:

“‘Nothing here worth staying for,’ Kazak agrees. ‘Terrible place for a fight–no high ground, almost no terrain. Where are we, fucking Hellas? Why drop us in the middle of nothing?”

But one can become inured to almost anything, even this writing style. A few dozen pages in, it fades into the background, and one can focus on the confusing tale.

And it is confusing. It leaves questions galore unanswered, starting with the initial premise: A small number of emissaries from an advanced civilization (“Gurus”) arrive on Earth and begin handing out scientific and technological goodies, with the provisos that they be shared among nations, and that (yes) humans stop saying “fuck” on Earth and use euphemisms instead–and they do it!  Once Earth is hooked on those goodies, the Gurus reveal that they need Earth to supply combat troops to fight a proxy war against their enemies (“Antags”)–on Mars! But why there? Why would the Antags invade dry, desolate Mars rather than Earth? This is one of the many unanswered questions War Dogs raises.

Others include, why would advanced civilizations capable of interstellar travel–in a galaxy teeming with habitable planets (as the Kepler observatory-satellite revealed)–even bother with Earth or Mars? Why would the combat be between humans and Antags rather than, at least primarily, machines? (Bear has one of his characters ask this in the text, so he’ll probably answer it eventually.) What are the strategic objectives of both the humans and Antags beyond simply killing each other? There’s no answer to this one either, not even on the macro scale.  As a result, the combat scenes and situations Bear describes take place in a strategic vacuum, leaving the reader perpetually floating untethered in space. And finally, why wouldn’t the Antags just slam Earth with a comet or asteroid to take it out of the war? (Bear describes–very well–a comet strike on Mars.)

Presumably Bear will answer at least most of these questions in the following books. (The only major question he answers arises in the latter part of War Dogs, and mentioning it would constitute a major spoiler, so I won’t.) But even for a series opener that’s supposed to be open ended, War Dogs is unsatisfying.

Recommended only for hardcore Bear fans.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia.

Free Radicals front cover