Guest Review: Hard Duty by Mark E. Cooper

Guest Review: Hard Duty by Mark E. CooperHard Duty (Merkiaari Wars #1) by Mark E. Cooper
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Series: Merkiaari Wars #1
Pages: 388
Published by Impulse Books UK on August 20, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Humanity's last encounter with aliens saw sixteen point two billion people killed in a war with the Merkiaari that had spanned decades.

Two hundred years later, the Alliance is cautiously exploring beyond its borders again, but the survey corp. is considered a mere gesture by some. General Burgton of the 501st Infantry Regiment believes a lack of expansion is leading the Alliance into stagnation. So when one small ship discovers a new alien race, it should be an easy decision to make contact, but what if the aliens are like the Merkiaari?

Captain Jeff Colgan of the survey ship ASN Canada is at the tip of the spear. His ship made the discovery, his crew's lives are on the line, and his decisions will decide the outcome. Will the Alliance make new friends or will he be responsible for another sixteen billion deaths? When the aliens discover his ship and begin hunting him through their system, his mission changes from one of study to one of survival.

Guest Review by Amy:

Two hundred years ago, when humankind met the Merkiaari, it resulted in over sixteen billion deaths, and an enduring fear of space exploration. Now, as humankind reaches out into the darkness once more, they’re more careful about it. When Jeff Colgan’s ship, the ASN Canada, hears a radio transmission of unknown origin, they have to investigate – carefully.

If it’s the Merki, that’s really bad, of course. If it’s not their mysterious, hated enemy, then they have to find out if they are as bad or worse. If not that, then they need to convince this other race to not be so noisy, so as not to attract the Merkiaari’s attention!

Escape Rating: B: There’s a lot going on in this book. Besides the viewpoint of the Alliance folks who have discovered the new race (they call themselves the Shan), we spend a fair amount of time exploring their lives. Meanwhile, in another part of the galaxy, seemingly unconnected with this drama out in the hinterlands, we have a Viper at work. Vipers are the souped-up humans who made it possible to defeat the Merkiaari back when, we’re told, and many of them still work for the Alliance now, as our man Eric does. Eric’s on a mission, to infiltrate a guerrilla movement on some planet that is trying to decide if they should join the Alliance – I think?

It’s very confusing, having this one plot line that doesn’t seem connected to the other two. What redeemed this book for me was that all three are colorfully written stories in their own right, any one of which I’d be happy to read. Eric’s Viper story is certainly action-packed and engaging, but I don’t see a lot of connection between it and the first-contact situation with the Shan. The disparate stories at work here distract somewhat from the otherwise high quality of the work, and having both ends of the galaxy end the book on hairy cliffhangers was a little bit off-putting.

One of the most-impressive parts of this book, for me, was the new race, the Shan. They’re technologically advanced, yet still have a jungle-predator culture, in many ways. Cooper’s descriptions of these beings, their relationships and their culture are all richly described, and the first-contact scenario could easily have come out of any of Star Trek‘s incarnations without looking like a misfit. The stress on the scenario of needing to stay hidden from the Merkiaari adds some good tension to this plot line, and kept me reading through to the tantalizing end.

I’m still left wondering what the point of the Viper plot line was, but there are seven books planned in this series, so perhaps Mark Cooper will make things clearer in later books.

Hard sci-fi: check! Adventure: check! Cloak-and-dagger: check! First contact with alien race: check! Satisfaction: …not so much.

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