The Singularity Trap – Dennis E. Taylor

Asteroid mining newbie Ivan Pritchard and the crew of the Mad Astra seem to have made the strike of a lifetime. But there is a mysterious artifact close by. When the crew investigates, Ivan triggers an ancient alien booby trap, and is changed into… something else.

The story is cleverly constructed and moves along briskly. I couldn’t put it down. While rather tightly focused on a small cast of characters, the scope quickly expands, encompassing broad themes of existence, self and societal viability. Fundamental questions about the Drake Equation and the Great Filter are asked, but without detracting from the enjoyable nature of the narrative. Unlike many authors who dabble in mysterious alien artifacts and “what do they want with us?”, Mr. Taylor manages to pull off a plausible and logical conclusion that does not smell of Deus ex Machina. The signs of ecological catastrophe on Earth, initially giving the impression of being just window dressing, also contribute to the urgency of the situation presented.

Black Triumph (Dark Victory III) – Brendan Dubois

Following the events of Red Vengeance, now Lieutenant Randy Knox is captured by the alien Creepers. What he finds in Creeper captivity is horrific in many ways, with human living as weird prisoners, typically without defined parameters for their captivity, and no prospect of change.

While the book does provide a conclusion to the Dark Victory series, the whole thing goes out with a whimper. Much of the action seems unrelated to the main story, only serving to vaguely illustrate the fact that the Creepers are aliens, and as such do not have easily fathomable behaviours or motivations. This turns the novel into a bit of a slog, in sharp contrast to the previous books.

In the first two books, the Creepers were a faceless evil. Once the evil is explained, it comes out as rather anticlimactic, with an ending that feels tacked on and unsatisfactory.

Red Vengeance (Dark Victory II) – Brendan Dubois

The second book picks up directly after Dark Victory. After the surprising events at the end of the first book, Randy is seconded to a regular army unit. And it seems that the Creepers are hunting him specifically.

While not quite as good as Dark Victory, this is a fine continuation of the story. It does raise more questions about the motivation of the Creepers, but there are clearly more books coming.

Dark Victory (Dark Victory I) – Brendan Dubois

Ten years after the Creepers attacked Earth and decimated the population, the United States is reduced to a nineteenth century existence. Any significant use of power or radio results in an orbital strike. Creepers roam the landscape in almost impregnable exoskeletons, burning and killing. Randy Knox is a sixteen year old Sergeant in the New Hampshire National Guard. He has been in the service four years. A veteran soldier with several kills under his belt, but also a teenager who attends school and thinks about girls a lot. One day, Randy receives orders to escort a government emissary to the capital.

While flirting with the Young Adult genre, this feels like a more mature tale. Mr. Dubois has woven an intense story full of action, courage and desperate choices. Randy is a hero, but an imperfect one, prone to brusque outbursts and impatience. A young man hardened by years of bitter warfare. This makes him much more realistic than the more typical young adult protagonist. A great read.

Armada – Ernest Cline

ArmadaZack Lightman is a typical teenager living in a small town in Oregon. He is about to graduate high school. He works part time in a vintage video game shop. He plays the hit space combat game “Armada” quite a bit, with a player ranking of sixth worldwide. He also plays the companion ground combat game Terra Firma, but is nowhere near as good as his friends. The whole world seems to be playing these games. Then one, day, an Earth Defense Alliance shuttle looking just like in the games turns up at Zack’s school to pick him up for duty. Apparently the alien invaders are real and the games are a training simulation.

Like in his debut novel Ready Player One, Mr. Cline plays heavily on nostalgia and homages to the pop culture of the eighties. The story itself is heavily influenced by The Last Starfighter, which is also is referenced in the text. However in this novel the element feels somewhat forced.

The book is a fun romp and a lighthearted read. However it feels rushed and unfinished. The reader is left with the impression that there is so much left to say about these characters, but the story moves on rails, far too rapidly tracking towards what is a predictable conclusion despite the too obvious twist.

3½Rosbochs

 

All You Need Is Kill – Hiroshi Sakurazaka

AllYouNeedIsKillKeiji Kiriya is a draftee in the ongoing war against the alien Mimics. In his first battle, he is killed after only the first few minutes. He finds himself back in his bunk, seemingly transported back in time to the morning before. As the story continues, and no matter what he does, he keeps getting killed about thirty hours into the time loop, and then being returned to his bunk. Stuck in the cycle but with memories of each loop intact, he decides to become a better fighter so he can win the battle.

The first-person perspective lends itself well to the story, as the reader feels empathy for Keiji’s ordeal, both initially as a draftee in a seemingly hopeless war, and later as a victim of the time loops. He does not want to fight at all, almost a stereotypical apathetic young man with “no goals in life”, and he must transform himself from victim to pro-active initiative taker. While the action is excellent, and the story well crafted, the timey-wimey bits unfortunately become ponderous and over-complex as the novel progresses. A somewhat simplified view of the time loops would have kept the pace up.

The novel is the basis for the movie Edge of Tomorrow.

4Rosbochs

The Rats, The Bats & The Ugly (Rats, Bats & Vats #2) by Eric Flint & Dave Freer

TheRatsTheBatsandTheUglyThe second book in the series picks up directly where book one left off. Chip and Fitz are unfairly accused, Virginia is drugged and hidden. The Korozhet are known by our heroes to be the enemy, but they hold all the cards.

The first half of this book, while necessary, is not really that much fun and humor. And that is a problem. Without fun, this series is too absurd to be really good. Thankfully, the second half more than makes up for it. A good read assuming you’ve read the first book.

3½Rosbochs

 

Rats, Bats & Vats (Rats, Bats & Vats #1) – Eric Flint & Dave Freer

RatsBatsandVatsOn the colony planet of Harmony and Reason, the colony’s shareholders are an entitled and elitist upper class, while the rest of the population is poor and indebted. Most of the lower class is made up of “Vats”, vat-grown humans based on genetic material brought from Earth. To make matters worse, insectoid/arachnid aliens have invaded, and the incompetent shareholder military leadership is doing poorly. With the aid of alien technology, the humans “uplift” rats and bats to help fight the war. The bats are flying sappers with Irish accents and strong political views. The rats are nymphomaniac drunks acting as infantry. The action centers on a group of grunts who find themselves stuck behind enemy lines.

Despite the completely absurd premise, or perhaps because of it, this was quite a fun book. It is written with tongue firmly in cheek and humor firmly in the gutter. I enjoyed the misadventures of this one particular group of misfits, replete with constant inter-species sniping and a bitterly resigned attitude towards the idiocy of the brass.

3½Rosbochs

Deep Space (Star Carrier IV) – Ian Douglas

StarCarrier4DeepSpaceDeep Space takes place twenty years after Singularity. Admiral Koenig is now the president of the North American Union, and Trevor Grey is the captain of the Star Carrier America. Trouble is brewing as a mysterious object appears at the fringes of known space, destroying the scout force sent to investigate it. The Sh’daar resume hostilities by attacking a human colony. Finally, the Confederation is in trouble as the EU seeks to eliminate North American Union independence. Naturaly, the America and its fighters are in the thick of things.

At its core this is a decent continuation to the the Star Carrier series. The story is fine, and the action, especially in the second half, is pretty decent. Unfortunately the book is hampered by seemingly endless repetition of the same factoids of history. How many times do we need to know about the Sh’daar’s obsession for transcendence, the way the Chinese Hegemony bombarded Earth, how the periphery of the North American Union is swampland inhabited by primitives? This book would have been much better if Douglas had edited out most of his repetitive infodumps.

2Rosbochs

Singularity (Star Carrier III) – Ian Douglas

Book three seamlessly segues from the end of Center of Gravity. Admiral Koenig leads the battlegroup further into Sh’daar territory, towards the enigmatic center of the Sh’daar civilization. Meanwhile Lieutenant Grey’s personal odyssey continues.

I was disappointed with the last book in the trilogy. The action is still good, but it is upstaged by the exploration of the enigma that is the Sh’daar. Wormholes, discussions about transcendence and the evolution of civilizations abound. Douglas has thought the whole thing out quite well and the ending makes sense. Unfortunately it feels as if the more lofty macrostory and themes don’t mix well with the military science fiction setting. Long discussions on the deep future and the deep past of technological civilizations slow the pace down too much. Mind you, these discussions are interesting, but they just don’t fit in well in this book.

On the character side, the developments are not very original, and the dialogue is wooden at best. Grey is a metaphor for humanity itself. Koenig is the consummate military officer. The rest are cardboard cutouts.

Center of Gravity (Star Carrier II) – Ian Douglas

Book two starts where Earth Strike left off. Admiral Koenig is set to launch a raid deep into enemy territory, with the aim of scouting, disrupting enemy momentum, and keeping pressure off Earth.

Great action scenes. However the political stuff is quite heavy handed, the message being that politicians are idiots who can’t make rational decisions and military men (well, American military men) know better. A Churchill-like politician would have added greatly to this series.

Earth Strike (Star Carrier I) – Ian Douglas

In this new series by Ian Douglas (AKA William H. Keith, Jr.) Earth and its colonies are on the defensive, hemmed in and attacked by a vast and enigmatic interstellar empire. The action focuses on the Star Carrier America and its fighter spacecraft. The first half deals with a rescue mission on a far-flung colony world, and the second with an attack on Earth itself. Sure, spoilers, but it is right there in the title.

The action is good, clean military science fiction fun, just like in Mr. Douglas’s three connected trilogies dealing with space marines. There are some quite interesting discussions regarding the impact on technology on human society. This goes far deeper than most military science fiction books, which tend to gloss over any impact outside of that on military technologies. The story is very entertaining as it rapidly moves from action scene to action scene. Douglas knows pacing.

Watch on the Rhine – John Ringo & Tom Kratman

This book is part of Ringo‘s Legacy of the Aldenata universe. It deals with the defense of Germany during the Posleen War. In what initially seems like a Faustian bargain, the Germans rejuvenate a whole bunch of old SS soldiers to form the cadre for their elite defense forces. They even resurrect the SS unit names and eventually the infamous double flash insignia. Much thoughtprovoking discussion ensues. The authors treat the subject matter in an adult manner. It’s a tricky subject, but they pull it off.

The action contained is great. The combat scenes are, as expected, intense and well written. The characters, major and minor, are all well fleshed out. The flashbacks into the past of various SS officers, especially Brasche, are excellent and used well throughout as a backdrop to the main action.

If you like the other books in the series, you will like this one. But it stands well on its own. No doubt many will loathe this book for the hated symbols it portrays and the notion of reawakening a buried evil. But as discussed in the text, symbols are not absolute. I urge readers to approach the text with open minds.

Tendeléo’s Story – Ian McDonald

Novelette about how biological packages from outer space infest the Earth. The story is told through the eyes of Tendeléo and her lover. Tendeléo is a Kenyan girl who grows up under the shadow of the alien threat, and manages to build her life despite all the odds stacked against her. I was initially a bit put off by the naif tone, but the story grew quickly on me. Good stuff.

This book has a double cover and is paired with Watching Trees Grow by Peter F. Hamilton.

The Posleen War Series – John Ringo

Alien invasion stories have been done before, but to my knowledge never quite with this much desperation, lack of hope, or heroism on the part of the defenders. This is rich military SF with a keen eye for the strategic dimension and human psychology as well as kick-ass fun. The “original” series consists of the following.

  • A Hymn Before Battle
  • Gust Front
  • When the Devil Dances
  • Hell’s Faire

The first novel is a sort of “eve of the war” story. I was put off by the cover for quite a while but eventually decided to give it a shot. Good thing too. Aliens have contacted Earth and told them of an ongoing war, and that the Posleen, a very powerful race with a behavior like a cannibalistic Mongol horde, is only five years out from Earth. The Galactics will help, if humans help them fight. The other races are pacifistic in the extreme. There is action (of course) in the form of skirmishes and the defence of an allied planet, and we are introduced to Mike O’Neal, later leader of an elite Armed Combat Suit unit and the main hero of the story.

The second novel covers the assault on Earth. As before, Ringo has a knack for describing the political and strategic dimensions, and is not afraid of throwing disastrous screwups, unexpected developments and plain old bad luck into the mix. The United States is hunkering down, but the question is: Will the line hold for the defenders to marshal their forces?

The third novel of the series is a middle book to bridge the gap between the first Posleen assault on Earth (covered in “Gust Front”) and the climactic conclusion to the war (covered in “Hell’s Faire”). Characters are developed and the stage is set for a whopping showdown. The action scenes are great, as in all Ringo’s work, and the humor just keeps getting better. It’s quite ironic that a story about alien invasion and massive destruction, suffering and pain can make me laugh out loud so much. Ringo is good at capturing the inner essence of characters. This three-dimensionality is welcome, and few authors pull it off so well. He is also very good at developing his characters as they go through events in their lives. Masterful.

The fourth novel picks up exactly where When the Devil Dances left off. In the afterword, Ringo says that the last two should only have been one, but 9/11 gave him serious writer’s block and plans had to change. He even suggests gluing them together. The conclusion is very exciting and satisfying. While many loose ends are tied up, other fundamental questions about the various aliens, which were only hinted at in the earlier books, are now dredged up and given new focus. Why didn’t the Galactics warn Earth earlier? Why did they give intelligence to the Posleen? To answer these questions the Universe is already much expanded, with several more novels written solo and in collaboration.