Penny Arcade Volumes 1 and 2 – Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

The web published comic strip Penny Arcade should be familiar to anyone who likes video games. These books collect the strips in paper format. Holkins and Krahulik have made a name for themselves as the guys with their fingers on the jugular of the industry. Sometimes bizarre, often profane, always funny. Highly recommended if you are or have been a gamer. Others may find it more than a bit odd.

The Inheritance Trilogy – Ian Douglas

These are sequels to the exciting Heritage and Legacy trilogies. As before, the focus is on the Marine Corps and its role in imagined future conflict. Note: Ian Douglas is a pen name for William H. Keith.

Star Strike

This is the first book in the third trilogy about US Marines. The story jumps ahead about half a millenium. The Xul still threaten humankind, but have been quiescent since the events of Star Marines. As per usual, the Marines are hindered by a misguided politician, then proceed to save the day and win a great victory. There is the usual boot camp training sequence with a new scion of the Garroway line.

While the plots are becoming somewhat formulaic, these novels are still of high quality. The action is gritty, the story is epic, and the books are real page turners. I was afraid that all the “future tech” would somehow make the story less relatable, but this is not so. Douglas manages to explain well how technologies like AIs, direct mind link to computers and virtual spaces change the way humans interact. He also infuses the book with a sense of history, and understands that political entities and priorities can shift dramatically over time.

Galactic Corps

The second book of the trilogy picks up the story about a decade after Star Strike. Once again, there is an annoying politician. The Marines now attempt a blow at the very heartland of the Xul, in the radiation saturated galactic core.

While the first half follows the usual formula, the second half, with operations in the core, is truly excellent. Very exciting and with many elements from “sense of wonder” stories like Ringworld and Rendevous with Rama. These are areas that military Scifi doesn’t usually touch upon but could and should more often. A very strong middle book and another page turner.

Semper Human

After a thousand year “break” in the macrostory, the Marines are back. Revived from a centuries long hibernation (de facto a kind of reserve status), they wake to a radically different galactic society, with a plethora of alien races, as well as new offshoots of the human race. The reason for their awakening is that the Xul seem to be altering reality by subtly influencing human minds through the spooky effects of quantum physics.

After the breakneck action of the previous two books, this one feels very slow to start. A lot of time is spent discussing the changes to galactic society of the past centuries. The usual “Marines are anachronisms” message, only more so, and to excess. Once battle is joined, so to speak, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as visceral as previously. The characters are dull and lack the compelling qualities of those in earlier installments. Douglas redeems himself a bit at the end with some excellent historical vignettes, but it is not enough. Unfortunately, the book becomes one long treatise about why Marines have always pulled mankind’s (and in this case Galactic Society as whole’s) chestnuts out of the fire. While I understand and even agree with the message, it is far too heavy handed. So this ninth, and possibly last, book of the saga unfortunately ends it with a sizzle where there should have been a bang. A big, big bang.

The Legacy Trilogy – Ian Douglas

This is the sequel trilogy to the exciting Heritage Trilogy. Set a hundred years further in the future, the books flesh out the backstory significantly and satisfyingly. The Marine Corps focused action remains, improved if anything. Douglas (a pen name for William H. Keith) writes about battles, troops and equipment with a gritty and realistic tone.

Star Corps

Descendants of the An, prehistoric overlords of Earth, have been discovered on a planet in a nearby star system. Suddenly, the delegation sent there is attacked by these “Ahannu”. The Marines send a relief expedition on a ten year voyage (one way) to regain control. This book introduces the Marines featured in the first two books of the trilogy, in particular John Garroway, descendant of the main characters from the Heritage Trilogy. The Ahannu are just a bit player in galactic terms, though.

Battlespace

After a ten year voyage back to Earth, the Marines are sent out again. Their twenty year absence has led to significant problems interacting with society, somewhat similar to what happens in Haldeman’s “The Forever War“. This time, the mission involves securing an alien stargate in the Sirius system, thought to be used by the “Hunters of the Dawn”, a very advanced race that destroys any life that could threaten it. At the gate, the Marines encounter another race, the Oannans/N’mah, which has been fleeing from and fighting the Hunters of the Dawn for millenia. After initial violence due to misunderstading, an alliance is formed.

Star Marines

The action now jumps forward a century and a half, but the main characters are still Garroways. The Hunters of the Dawn, alerted by the destruction of their ship and gate in “Battlespace”, have decided that humans are a threat. A Hunter ship appears in Sol system and attacks. Earth is devastatated. The Marines launch a Doolittle Raid on the enemy, trying to buy the humans time. By the end of the Legacy Trilogy things are still very much up in the air about the future survival of humanity.

 

While the “Marines rule” theme in these books can sometimes be a bit heavy handed, this is quality military SciFi. The back story, only hinted at in the Heritage Trilogy, is fully fleshed out and well imagined.

The Heritage Trilogy – Ian Douglas

The Heritage Trilogy is the first of three connected trilogies about Marines in space, and consists of:

  • Semper Mars
  • Luna Marine
  • Europa Strike

Three very good near future military SciFi stories, loosely connected at the micro level, with a deeper common background. My only small gripe is that Douglas does not concentrate more on the backstory of alien visitors in ancient times. Still and all, a very good read.

Note: Ian Douglas is a pen name for William H. Keith.

The Trigger – Arthur C. Clarke & Michael Kube-McDowell

This is the story of a device that disables guns and bombs. It all starts out low key. An accidental discovery in a lab. But as with many such discoveries, it soon takes on a life of it’s own, and leads the inventors (and the reader) to many unexpected places.

Interestingly, this book manages not to preach from either end of the gun-control argument. Without becoming less exciting or interesting, it manages to sum up and discuss the entire issue from the aspect of new technological advances. A great book.

Yellow Eyes – Tom Kratman & John Ringo

Even more Ringo! For some reason I had been avoiding this Posleen series side story. That came back to bite me as I launched into the follow-up Hedren series and some of the characters popped up.

The story is set before and during the Posleen invasion of Earth, but deals specifically with events in Panama. Realizing that the Panama Canal is strategically important, the US sends military and material aid to bolster the defenses, including three warships. Through a complex series of events, one of the ships, the USS Des Moines, gains sentience. The story follows the defense of Panama, both from the perspective of the Posleen-Human conflict, and from the perspective of the struggle between corrupt officials and honorable ones. The Darhel, overlords of the Galactic Federation, want the humans to win, but only just, so that human civilization is shattered and cannot be a threat to them.

The Panama aspects are very interesting, and it shows that both authors have been posted there during their military careers. The story itself is quite good, with predictably excellent battle scenes. It is a worthy addition to the Posleen series, but should probably not be read as a standalone.