Archive for category Military

The Lost Fleet #6: Victorious, by Jack Campbell (Ace, 2010)

After long months and great hardship, Captain John “Black Jack” Geary has accomplished the impossible: he’s brought the Alliance fleet home. The fleet’s suffered great losses in its desperate, prolonged escape from the heart of Syndic space, but under Geary’s anachronistic leadership (he was lost in cryogenic suspension for a century prior to the start of the series), they’ve rediscovered what it means to be warriors and victors. But just because they’ve come home doesn’t mean the war is over. No, with fresh supplies and new ships, Geary has to take the fleet out one last time, to strike decisively at the Syndics and force an end to the never-ending conflict. And then he’ll have to deal with the non-human forces which have subtly manipulated Syndic and Alliance alike for decades. Obviously, the reward for doing a good job is having to do more of it; the reward for pulling off the impossible is a reputation as a miracle worker.

Serving as the capstone to the six book series, Victorious provides an emotional and visceral payoff for both characters and readers, as we get as concrete a conclusion to the various plot threads as we can hope for. The war is finally resolved, the aliens are addressed, Geary’s oft-repeated promises to step down as commander of the fleet, once the job is done, are handled, and the long-running romantic subplot involving Geary and his ever-faithful second-in-command, Captain Tanya Desjani, is given plenty of space to develop. Mixing razor-sharp military action with engaging character interaction, Victorious is as entertaining as the books which preceded it. It’s true that this isn’t the deepest, most philosophical series on the shelves; many of the secondary characters are little more than ciphers and walk-on parts, with only a mere handful standing out in a cast of thousands, and the momentum sometimes gets dragged down in strategy and battle tactics. These flaws are balanced out by the sheer fun factor of this book, and this series as a whole. It’s fast-paced popcorn reading, and would translate well into other mediums, such as television or comic books. In the end, I can safely say that I greatly enjoyed this last installment of the current series, and I look forward to the recently-announced spin-offs which promise to pick up where this leaves off. “Black Jack” Geary’s work isn’t done yet, it seems.

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Stark’s War, by John G. Hemry, Ace (2000)

In the not-so-distant future, the United States of America has emerged as the last true superpower, ruling the globe with an iron fist called the Pax America. However, one frontier remains free of their grip: the Moon. Here, various countries have seized control of its resources in an attempt to loosen the stranglehold America has on Earth, one last hope at finding their own measure of independence. However, claiming right of domain by virtue of the original Moon landing in ’69, America is willing to fight for dominance, dispatching troops into space to take back the last bastion of freedom, anyway they can.

In an army so wedded to advanced technology that a pirvate can’t even sneeze without being micromanaged by the brass, and so corrupt that an honest man stands a better chance of dying than being promoted, Sergeant Ethan Stark is the rare exception. Honest, blunt, fearless and loyal to the extreme, he’s dedicated to his man, and his job, with a passion. This mission will test his resolve and loyalties to the breaking point, and beyond.

Newcomer John G. Hemry turns in a gripping tale of military science fiction in the tradition of Heinlein’s Starship troopers and Haldeman’s The Forever War. It serves both as cautionary fable and science fiction adventure, succeeding on both levels. The future society it portrays is a horrifying one, where personal aggrandizement and promotion are far more important than quality or loyalty, where military battles have become popular entertainment, and where the common soldier is nothing but a pawn to be carelessly discarded by a ruthless Army made up of career officers and politicians. It takes the very worst elements of today’s society and amplifies them in a logical manner, showing us a place where we might very well be someday.

Ethan Stark, the protagonist and voice of common sense and morality, is a good man, plain and simple, who joined the Army to make a difference and be part of something grander. The events of Stark’s War force him to question everything he’s ever believed in or upheld, and the choices he makes will affect not just him, but the entire Army before it’s over.

The characterization in this book, be it Stark, his closest friend Sergeant Vic Reynolds, or any of the many enlisted men and women who get screen time, is right on. These are real people dealing with real situations, often hamstrung by (admittedly over-the-top) uncaring officers and arbitrary commands. When someone dies, you notice it. The plot is sharp and crisp, moving right along at a mounting pace until it reaches the point of no return. While there’s a defined resolution, there’s plenty of room for a sequel, which will hopefully explore the new status quo created by the events within.

This is a good book, a worthy debut from Hemry, and it has the potential to join the pantheon of classic military SF if it gets the attention it deserves. Give this one a try.

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When The Devil Dances, by John Ringo (Baen, 2003)

In the third book of John Ringo’s exciting series, the stakes have been raised once again. The alien Posleen have been on Earth for five years now, and we’re losing, badly. Civilization is down to a few scattered pockets in the mountains, and the remnants of North America. However, we’re fighting back tooth and claw, determined to make their victory a costly one. Luckily, we’ve got alien technology of our own, plus sheer human stubbornness, on our side. Between dirty guerilla warfare, powered battlesuits, and mountain-sized mobile artillery, the remaining humans will do anything to make the Posleen miserable. Unfortunately, they’re getting smarter the longer they deal with us. It’s up to Major Michael O’Neal, as well as the amnesiac intelligence officer Anne Elgars, and Sergeant Major Mosovich to mount resistance where they can. And to die holding the line in the worst-case scenario. It may not be enough, but they won’t go down easily.
John Ringo has really pulled out all the stops in this book, guaranteeing that however the series winds up, it’ll do so with a conclusive bang. The ideas keep getting bigger, the battles more desperate, and the payoff more rewarding. The only drawback is that it flows better as a series than as individual books, with long sequences devoted to certain characters while others nearly vanish for much of the book. Overall though, this is a great representative of military science fiction, and a series worth looking at.

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Stark’s Crusade, by John G. Hemry (Ace, 2002)

John Hemry concludes his exciting trilogy about Sergeant Ethan Stark, a man betrayed by his superiors and forced to go against the very system he stands for in order to do what’s right. He and the rest of the American forces on the Moon have successfully revolted against the military hierarchy and declared independence. Now they, and the civilians of the lunar colony, must work together or be destroyed by the numerous forces that want them back in line. Can the civilians and the military trust each other long enough to fight a war against the world that spawned them? Or will one side crack? If they can only last long enough, maybe Stark will save his people from the inevitable retribution, and make a change in the system.
Hemry has combined a keen sense of action with a fine look at the morality of following orders, and produced a groundbreaking story in the same vein as The Forever War or Starship Troopers. This is military science fiction as I’ve come to enjoy it, and I look forward to more from this author.

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Stark’s Command, by John G. Hemry (Ace, 2001)

There’s the old saying, “If you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself.” There’s also the one about “putting your money where your mouth is.” Both of these sayings have just become quite relevant for Sergeant Ethan Stark, late of the United States military in the not so distant future. In the debut novel by John Hemry, Stark’s War, we watched as criminal stupidity, ineptitude, and negligence nearly annihilated a good part of the US military in a misguided attempt to seize the Moon’s resources for American interests. The end result of this ill-advised, disastrous campaign was a full-scale mutiny of the troops against their leaders, with Ethan Stark, the catalyst, being elected as leader pro tem of the newly independent forces. And as we start Stark’s Command, we find our erstwhile hero struggling with the new and unwanted responsibilities. There’s enemy forces to deal with, a civilian population on the Moon to negotiate with, and the inevitable retaliation from the American military. If one side doesn’t shoot him, the other’ll court martial and –then- shoot him. What’s an honest soldier to do?

Luckily, the soldier in question is Stark, and he’s more than capable of holding his own against all comers, even when they strike at those closest to him, and the attacks take on a myriad of forms. He has to secure his authority before his people can be torn apart, without repeating the same mistakes that lead to the insurrection in the first place. He has to cope with watching people continue to fight and die for no good reason, and to make an effective hierarchy out of low-ranking officers. It’s a challenge, but nothing he can’t handle, right? Well, if he can’t, things’ll be over before they’ve even started.

Once again, we’re treated to a fascinating, complex look at the military mindset. Hemry goes light on the science, and heavy on the characterization, combat, and military procedure as he delivers the second installment in this exciting fable about the near future. We may have reached the Moon, but we’re no more mature for it. Nationalism is strong, bureaucracy still a stumbling block, and we’re our own worst enemies. And if that’s not believable, what is?

Stark’s Command is a good book. Not quite as good as Stark’s War, but it also seems to suffer from “middle book syndrome.” It’s painfully obvious that this is “to be continued,” and in that regards, it ends on a frustrating cliffhanger. It can’t be read as a standalone very well, not with the questions left dangling. But as the middle book of a trilogy, it serves its purpose and tells a damn fine story. For those who like military SF, this book more than serves the purpose, clearly claiming Hemry’s place at the Round Table of military SF writers. I’ll be looking forward to see how he resolves the story, and what else he has up his sleeve.

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Hell’s Faire, by John Ringo (Baen, 2004)

John Ringo brings to a close the first part of his Legacy of the Aldenata series with Hell’s Faire. Originally intended to be the final part of When the Devil Dances, the material in this book was delayed due to the events of 9/11, turning what was supposed to be a trilogy into a four book series. Luckily, Hell’s Faire doesn’t suffer for being forced to stand on its own; Ringo does a good job of recapping previous material and bringing readers up to speed.
As in the previous books, the alien race known as the Posleen are tearing apart Earth, and the only true organized resistance remaining is in America. The Appalachians are a blazing warzone as the best and brightest of the Posleen forces match their overwhelming numbers and technology against the cunning and do-or-die attitude of a bunch of humans. Michael O’Neal and his daughter Cally, Sergeant Major Mosovich, and the intrepid crew of SheVa Nine (nicknamed BunBun) are at the forefront of the last great push to save the world. It’s all-out action, huge explosions, massive ground battles and violent desperation, and when it’s all over, either the Posleen get Earth, or they get their tails handed to them.
Ringo’s a great new voice in the military science fiction field, willing to think big and throw out some audacious concepts in the doing. While this is the last we’ll see of this particular series for a while, I’m looking forward to whatever he does next.

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Burden of Proof, by John G. Hemry (Ace, 2004)

It’s been over a year since Paul Sinclair, legal officer for the Space Navy’s USS Michaelson, testified in the court-martial of his first commanding officer. Since then, he’s settled down to a life in space, serving to the best of his abilities and faithfully, if sometimes reluctantly, acting in his legal capacities. With a new promotion to Lieutenant, and an ongoing relationship with fellow officer Jen Shen (currently serving on another ship), everything seems to be going smoothly.
Then, things go horribly wrong. While the Michaelson is in port at Franklin Station, an explosion rips through part of the ship, destroying part of Forward Engineering and killing a good man in the process. The resulting investigation, conducted by Jen Shen’s father, Captain Kay Shen, leaves all of the blame upon the deceased sailor, case closed. But something’s not right. Alerted by something one of his subordinates says, Paul does some digging into the incident, soon discovering that one of the Michaelson’s newest crew members, a popular young officer, may be to blame, and evidence supporting that line of thought has been tampered with. At this officer’s court-martial, all of the secrets and lies will be stripped away, and the truth revealed. But what impact will this trial have upon Paul’s career, or his relationship with Jen?
Burden of Proof is another exciting military legal SF adventure from John Hemry, who’s fast made a name for himself as a writer to watch. Perfectly capturing the rapid-fire give and take and dramatic arguments of shows like Law and Order, or JAG (of course), or movies like A Few Good Men, and throwing in the solid characterization of classic Heinlein, the story moves at a fast pace; though the build-up takes place over several months, the court-martial itself is almost surprisingly quick. Once I started reading, I was hard-pressed to put the book down, and I’m left eagerly awaiting the next installment of Paul Sinclair’s career. Though I do admit to wondering what sort of trouble he’ll have to deal with next time, and how long he can continue to be the reluctant lawyer, when he’s clearly just right for the job. Burden of Proof, like each of Hemry’s books to date, is a must for any military SF fan.

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The Better Part of Valor, by Tanya Huff (DAW, 2002)

Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr’s reward for surviving a near-catastrophic situation while keeping her people and her civilian charges alive is reassignment, a fact that doesn’t please her in the least. Maybe she shouldn’t have told the general who got her into the mess what she thought of him. Now she and a ragtag group of soldiers drawn from all over the Confederation have been sent to investigate a massive derelict spaceship of unknown origins. But is the real danger the ship in question, or is it the publicity-hungry commanding officer and the media following him, or is it one of the scientists sent to study the spaceship? Any way you look at it, she’ll have her hands full trying to stay alive and keep her men together this time. Not everyone is coming home from this mission. Once again, Tanya Huff produces another enjoyable book, proving that her talents, normally reserved for fantasy, lend themselves quite well to science fiction. With the Valor series, she’s clearly hitting her stride.

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A Just Determination, by John G. Hemry (Ace, 2003)

Ensign Paul Sinclair has just been assigned to the USS Michaelson, his first posting as an officer. Armed with several years of Academy training and specialized schooling, he’s surprised when his lone legal course qualifies him to be the ship’s legal officer, a role he’s none too eager to play. He’s got enough on his plate as it is, trying to get the hang of things aboard ship in the Navy of the future, without trying to worry out legal ramifications for complex situations. And a very complex situation’s been dropped into his lap, when the Michaelson is ordered to patrol American interests in space, and to enforce the sovereignty of said interests, doing whatever it takes. With disturbingly vague orders comes a disturbingly vague ship’s captain, Pete Wakeman, whose mental stability seems to be in question.
After the unthinkable occurs, and the Michaelson fires upon, and destroys a civilian research ship belonging to another country, Paul is forced to put everything he knows and believes in into perspective. The Michaelson is recalled home, Wakeman to stand trial for his actions as captain, and Ensign Sinclair must decide what version of the truth to go with. His testimony could do more than help the captain he doesn’t trust, it could make or break his career as well. But going with his heart may cost him all of that.
The characters, situations, and moral dilemna all reminded me strongly of a Heinlein juvenile, such as Space Cadet, or even William Forschten’s more recent Star Voyager Academy series. It’s almost deceptively simple on the surface, but the further you dig, the more there is to consider. Clearly the first in a new series, A Just Determination is proof that Hemry’s an author to keep an eye on.

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A Hymn Before Battle, by John Ringo (Baen, 2001)

There has been no shortage of books dealing with “First Contact” between humanity and extra-terrestrial races, and the results thereof. In his first novel, newcomer John Ringo skips all of the anticipation and wondering, and gets right down to business, as in the year 2001, we learn that we’re not alone. In fact, there are a fair number of alien races out there, and they need our help.

The battles lines are drawn right up front. The “good guys” are the Galactic Federation, and they offer to share information, technology, and the stars with us for a small price: help fight their interstellar war against the implacable and unending hordes of the Poseen, a race of near-moronic drones led by fierce, intelligent God-Kings. We’re free to refuse the offer and mind our own business, but the war will come to us anyway. Earth is in the Poseen’s path. We fight now, or we die later. And so Earth goes to war. Using alien technology, we design and build mighty suits of combat armor, all the while racing against the clock. We call up our veterans, arm the military, and prepare for all-out war. Millions are drafted or recalled into service, including Lt. Michael O’Neal, Sergeant Major Jacob Mosovich, and Master Gunnery Sergeant Earnest Pappas. While millions will be involved, it’s these three who provide the pivotal and most telling viewpoints, as they experience the war on three different fronts.

For Pappas, it’s the near-impossible job of whipped untried rookies and new soldiers into fighting condition, hampered by short supplies, insufficient information, and mutiny in the ranks. Unyielding, uncompromising, and as tough as any the Marines have ever turned out, he’ll be the only hope for survival some of these soldiers have. For Mosovich, it’s a return to a dirty kind of war, a do or die mission of reconnaissance on a far-distant planet, where the only rules are to survive, don’t get caught, and learn as much as possible about the enemy while there’s still time. O’Neal has the hardest job of all: help design the all-important armored battle suits that could turn the tide against the Poseen, and accompany the first contingent of Armored Combat Suit troops into space. They’re undertrained, undermanned, and woefully unprepared for the chaos and carnage.

With mutiny, insurrection and rioting at home, and mass slaughter abroad, it looks like Earth’s chances may be limited. They’re fighting a two-sided war, hampered more than helped by the “cooperation” of their so-called allies, races of bureaucrats and cowards. Technology is only as good as the user, and only as reliable as the supplier. Inexperience on the one hand and short supply on the other mean that the Earth forces will have to fall back on their best weapons: improvisation and ingenuity. This is all-out war, and a great many people won’t be coming home. Ultimately, even if we do survive and succeed on the initial battlefields, it’s just the beginning of a long and messy campaign. What will happen when the Poseen reach Earth?

As could be expected, A Hymn Before Battle is just the first book in the series. The sequel, Gust Front, is already out in stores. While this book does come to a definite conclusion, there’s more than enough room for much more story along each of the various threads and plots that make up the whole. The writing is intelligent and crisp, the battle scenes appropriately visceral and even over-the-top, as befits a war told on such a scale, and the characters memorable.

Where the book falls down, unfortunately, is in keeping the non-military reader properly interested and informed. Ringo demonstrates his own military knowledge, tossing around the jargon with very little restraint, for that authentic feel. While the characters are wonderful to follow, it’s occasionally difficult to keep up with the abbreviations and acronyms, and the not-always-explained distinctions between various military units. This is a first-rate military science fiction story with a lot of potential, but casual readers should thus been warned. Keeping track of some elements of the story may require a commitment. The payoff, however, is an exciting story reminiscent of Starship Troopers, with a 21st century eye towards widescreen action. John Ringo is an author to keep an eye on.

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