Due to my dubious status as a prolific reviewer on Goodreads and my interest in military science fiction, I received a message out of the blue from one Marc Jacobsen, USAF officer and author of ”The Lords of Harambee”. He asked me to review his book if I was interested. I was both excited and apprehensive. Previous forays into self-published novels have given me the probably unwarranted impression that they are either outstanding or awful. This one did nothing to change my views.
The Lords of Harambee takes place on a human colony world in an indefinite but not too far future. In a cruel irony on its Kenyan name of Harambee, signifying cooperation towards a common goal, the world is a hell-hole with a fortnight-long diurnal cycle, meaning one week of freezing cold night followed by one week of infernally hot day. To make matters worse, the atmosphere is not breathable. Inhabitants must wear breather masks fed by compressors when outside atmosphere controlled buildings. Most of the world is desert with the occasional lava plain.
Initially, Harambee seems almost a stereotypical third world backwater, with an ethnic minority controlling power and money while lording it over a poor but backwards ethnic majority. The alert reader may recognize this situation from the recent history of Iraq. Meanwhile, powerful off-word corporate interests control mining interests. The same alert reader may recognize this situation from, well, any number of places around the world.
The story centers on General Michael Sheridan, head of the peacekeeping mission on Harambee, his estranged daughter Claire, naïve activist (at least initially) and Julian Marshall, special forces operative with doubts. As things come together for bipartisan talks between the ethnic groups, perhaps even followed by democratic elections, civil war and genocide erupt, in large part due to meddling by foreign governments. In the mayhem that follows, off-word military, political and corporate interests do their best to screw things up while the “lords” of Harambee do their best to kill each other and commit atrocities.
If I had to describe this novel in one word, it would be powerful. It starts almost innocently, with a tired General Sheridan, stuck in a backwater assignment with chronically insufficient resources, starting to see glimmers of hope on the horizon. And then all hell breaks loose, and continues breaking loose. Mr. Jacobsen very skillfully navigates the reader through a rather intricate plot while keeping the human experience at the center. And what an experience it is. The descriptions of brutal killing, rape and suffering are gripping. I kept thinking that things could not get any worse, and then they did. And yet, strong but flawed characters kept fighting in an obvious but heartfelt metaphor for humanity. The desert and desolation of Harambee as illustration of the humanity and its suffering was especially apt. The fact that the action scenes are excellently written, the characters are interesting and the occasional humor is very dry doesn’t hurt.
Even if The Lords of Harambee is science fiction, it should interest anyone who wants to learn about the effects of foreign policy in “third world” countries. It does send a powerful message, mostly about things not being as simple from thousands of miles away as they are to those “on the ground”.