Review; The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay

Review; The Misfit Soldier by Michael MammayThe Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Harper Voyager on February 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Ocean's Eleven meets John Scalzi in this funny, action-filled, stand-alone sci-fi adventure from the author of Planetside, in which a small team of misfit soldiers takes on a mission that could change the entire galaxy.
Sergeant Gastovsky--Gas to everyone but his superior officers--never wanted to be a soldier. Far from it. But when a con goes wrong and he needs a place to lay low for a while, he finds himself wearing the power armor of the augmented infantry.
After three years on a six-year contract, Gas has found his groove running low-level cons and various illegal activities that make him good money on the side. He's the guy who can get you what you need. But he's always had his eye out for a big score--the one that might set him up for life after the military.
When one of his soldiers is left behind after a seemingly pointless battle, Gas sees his chance. He assembles a team of misfit soldiers that would push the term "ragtag" to its limits for a big con that leads them on a daring behind-the-lines mission, pitting him not only against enemy soldiers but against the top brass of his own organization.
If he pulls this off, not only will he save his squadmate, he might just become the legend he's always considered himself. He might also change the way the entire galaxy looks at this war. But for any of that to happen, he has to live through this insane plan.
And charm rarely stops bullets.

My Review:

The “misfit soldier” of this book’s title is just the kind of well-connected NCO who appears in lots of military stories, whether those stories are science fiction or not. Gas is an “operator” in his little fiefdom. He knows EVERYONE, and they ALL owe him favors. When we first get to know him, it seems like Gas is WAY more interested in his side hustles than he is in being a soldier.

(If you remember MAS*H, which was also an anti-war story told as a war story, Radar and Klinger were both operators of this type, as was the character of Sgt. Bilko from the 1996 movie and the 1950s TV show. The difference between Gas and Radar as The Misfit Soldier opens is that Gas (and Bilko) seemed to be out for themselves while Radar (and usually Klinger) were out to help their entire unit even if their methods were generally an end run around the snarl of official red tape.)

But as much as Gas seems to mostly have his eye on the main chance, that it appears that he’s more invested in adding to his post-military nest egg than he is carrying out his current military duties, he’s every bit as much invested in being a good sergeant. Maybe not “good” in the way that his superior officers would appreciate, but good in a way that the soldiers in his squad can count on.

In other words, he’s just as invested in taking care of his squad as he is in taking care of himself.

When one of his men gets left behind after yet another pointless battle on the shithole planet they are currently both orbiting and squabbling over, Gas is just as invested in going down to rescue the man as he is in his latest scheme.

Unless, of course, they are one and the same.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up with grabby hands long before the book came out because this is an author that I absolutely love and couldn’t wait to read his latest book. And I have to say that Sgt. Gas Gastovsky took me on a much wilder ride – with a much twistier ending – than I initially expected.

I also have to say, however, that I also felt a little bit of niggling disappointment. Not that The Misfit Soldier wasn’t an excellent military SF read – because it absolutely was – but because I discovered that I very much missed the universe-weary voice of Carl Butler, the protagonist of Mammay’s first three books, Planetside, Spaceside and Colonyside.

Butler is kind of a blunt object, and I liked his self-awareness as well as his unwillingness to take any shit or put up with any bullshit. From anyone. It helps that Butler has enough rank to get away with that attitude at least some of the time.

Because Gas is more of a bullshitter, I didn’t enjoy his internal voice nearly as much. I still liked his story, but, unlike Butler, I wouldn’t want to have a drink with the man. If I shook his hand I’d be much too worried about getting all my fingers back afterwards. And I’d need to go in KNOWING that I’d be picking up the tab whether I intended to or not.

Howsomever, because Gas is such an operator, this ends up being a wheels-within-wheels type of story that spins along at a breakneck pace – even if the reader is so mesmerized by the spin that they aren’t able to figure out where Gas is going until the end. But that’s the whole point, after all.

A lot of this story is wrapped around following Gas’ as he, well, operates. He always has a plan inside a plan inside a plan, and a scheme inside a scheme, and the only true thing about Gas’ clandestine mission to save his soldier is that said soldier is stuck behind enemy lines. Everything else, Gas is making up as he goes along. Just like always. Or so it seems.

As much trouble as Gas gets himself – and his squad – into, and as much trouble as he has – and makes – getting them all out again, his scheming, wheeling and dealing conceals a keen mind and a much bigger plan than anyone, including the reader, ever expected. Watching that plan unfold is a lot of the fun of this book.

Which winds all the way back to that comparison to MASH early on. There’s a MASH meme going around right now that makes the point that war is worse than hell – because there are no innocents in hell. Gas Gastovsky’s plan, the scheme he’s been all in on under the radar and behind the backs of absolutely everyone – including the reader – is going to rub that exact same point in the face of everyone who has been selling all the justifications for the unjust and unnecessary war that Gas, his squad, and all the troops orbiting this dirtball planet have been fighting for no good reason whatsoever.

If he can manage to pull the insane thing off without getting himself – and his squad – killed.

That means that any reader of military SF who loves stories where just as it seems the grunts are utterly FUBAR’d they manage to pull yet one more half-baked plan out of their asses, screw the brass AND save the day is going to want to get in on the ground floor of Gas Gastovsky’s operation.

Review: Colonyside by Michael Mammay

Review: Colonyside by Michael MammayColonyside (Planetside, #3) by Michael Mammay
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction, space opera
Series: Planetside #3
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Voyager on December 29, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A missing scientist and deep pockets pull Colonel Carl Butler out of retirement, investigating another mystery that puts him and his team--and the future of relations with alien species--in danger in COLONYSIDE, the exciting follow-up to Planetside and Spaceside.
A military hero is coming out of disgrace—straight into the line of fire…
Carl Butler was once a decorated colonel. Now he’s a disgraced recluse, hoping to live out the rest of his life on a backwater planet where no one cares about his “crimes” and everyone leaves him alone.
It’s never that easy.
A CEO’s daughter has gone missing and he thinks Butler is the only one who can find her. The government is only too happy to appease him. Butler isn’t so sure, but he knows the pain of losing a daughter, so he reluctantly signs on. Soon he’s on a military ship heading for a newly-formed colony where the dangerous jungle lurks just outside the domes where settlers live.
Paired with Mac, Ganos, and a government-assigned aide named Fader, Butler dives head-first into what should be an open and shut case. Then someone tries to blow him up. Faced with an incompetent local governor, a hamstrung military, and corporations playing fast and loose with the laws, Butler finds himself in familiar territory. He’s got nobody to trust but himself, but that’s where he works best. He’ll fight to get to the bottom of the mystery, but this time, he might not live to solve it.

My Review:

It’s starting to look like Carl Butler’s purpose in the universe is to be an intergalactic scapegoat. Back at the beginning of the series, Planetside, he thought he was the one they called in when they were looking to get things done. But after the events in that story, he became much more famous – or infamous – definitely infamous – as the galaxy’s biggest mass murderer.

Because he got the job done. In the second book, Spaceside, it seems as though he got hired because of that reputation, although he still thinks it’s for the other. Just like what happened on Cappa in Planetside, he’s the one left holding the proverbial bag – and nearly dead in it.

Now he’s on a remote colony, thinking he’s there to dot a few i’s and cross a few t’s on a military report about a missing person, but he’s really there to either be the poster person for saving planetary ecology or for humans-first type planetary exploitation, or just to get left holding yet another messy bag filled with bodies.

Whether his body is in that bag – or not.

Escape Rating A+: I loved this one. Actually, I’ve loved this whole series, starting with Planetside and flying right through Spaceside. I honestly didn’t expect Butler to survive Spaceside. I mean, I hoped he would, but with that ending, I wasn’t necessarily expecting him to. And having just finished his latest “adventure”, I’m glad he did.

This story, like the previous books in the series, is a story about misdirection. It’s about hidden agendas concealed under hidden agendas, and it’s about people playing a very long game. A game that Butler has found himself in the middle of, yet again. For someone who is so smart once he’s neck-deep in shit, he’s actually kind of dumb about how he finds himself there.

Another way of looking at that is that in spite of his well-earned paranoia, he just isn’t paranoid enough. Or, and possibly more likely, as safe as it is being retired at the ass end of a planet that’s the ass end of nowhere, it’s also boring. Butler misses, if not the bullshit involved in being in service, then certainly the camaraderie of it. And the purpose. Definitely the purpose.

So the mission is kind of Butler’s excuse to get his old “band” back together, but once they’re together they’ve got one hell of a job ahead of them.

At first it seems like he’s just there to reassure the victim’s rich daddy that the investigation was on the up and up. And it was, as far up the investigators were able to get.

But the reality is that nothing on Eccasis is truly on the side of the angels, and the corporation that the victim worked for – her daddy’s company – least of all. Then again, the only truth in Butler’s whole mission is that the woman is dead. Every other single thing is a lie. Or rather, a web designed to ensnare him until the trap can close over his head.

Underneath the petty political bickering and small time sniping between the governor and the military, the real tension on Eccasis – and on all of the colony planets that humans have swarmed over – is the debate over whether human colonization should preserve the indigenous flora and fauna on any planets they colonize, or whether humans, as the dominant species, have the right to just take over whatever and wherever they want and destroy anything that stands – or sits, or crawls, or just grows – in their way.

Butler’s actions on Cappa in Planetside have resulted in laws – however poorly and/or selectively enforced – that limit the amount of impact human settlements are permitted to have. But Butler was manipulated into coming to Eccasis to be used to promote the “humans first” argument – whether he wants to or not. No matter how much collateral damage is needed to make the point that the corporate interests want made.

Carl Butler, stuck in yet another no-win scenario – the man seems to specialize at getting stuck in them – has to find a way to balance his own survival with doing the least damage he can manage. That real justice is beyond his capability to inflict is just one more reason for his abiding cynicism. The rich do buy a different brand of justice than the rest of us, and that’s just as true in our present as it is in his future. And just as frustrating.

I wouldn’t mind another trip through the screwed up side of the galaxy in Butler’s head. Meaning that I’d love another book from this author with this particular protagonist. Whether that happens or not, I’m certainly on board for this author’s next book. And the one after that, and the one after that, and all the ones after that.

Review: A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers

Review: A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. WagersA Pale Light in the Black (NeoG #1) by K.B. Wagers
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Series: NeoG #1
Pages: 432
Published by Harper Voyager on March 3, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The rollicking first entry in a unique science fiction series that introduces the Near-Earth Orbital Guard—NeoG—a military force patrolling and protecting space inspired by the real-life mission of the U.S. Coast Guard.

For the past year, their close loss in the annual Boarding Games has haunted Interceptor Team: Zuma’s Ghost. With this year’s competition looming, they’re looking forward to some payback—until an unexpected personnel change leaves them reeling. Their best swordsman has been transferred, and a new lieutenant has been assigned in his place.

Maxine Carmichael is trying to carve a place in the world on her own—away from the pressure and influence of her powerful family. The last thing she wants is to cause trouble at her command on Jupiter Station. With her new team in turmoil, Max must overcome her self-doubt and win their trust if she’s going to succeed. Failing is not an option—and would only prove her parents right.

But Max and the team must learn to work together quickly. A routine mission to retrieve a missing ship has suddenly turned dangerous, and now their lives are on the line. Someone is targeting members of Zuma’s Ghost, a mysterious opponent willing to kill to safeguard a secret that could shake society to its core . . . a secret that could lead to their deaths and kill thousands more unless Max and her new team stop them.

Rescue those in danger, find the bad guys, win the Games. It’s all in a day’s work at the NeoG.

My Review:

Military SF, done right, is one of the best things to read if you are looking for serious “competence porn”, and A Pale Light in the Black is definitely military SF done very, very right.

There have been plenty of milSF stories featuring various branches of the service taken into space. Often those services model the space forces around either the Navy, as in Honor Harrington, or the marines, like Torin Kerr. The concept of a space Army seems like a bit of an oxymoron, as the Army has to get out of space and onto some ground in order to really be something called an Army. And a space Air Force feels redundant, even though there’s no atmosphere in space.

On the other hand, Stargate Command was run by the U.S. Air Force, so it IS possible after a fashion.

But the one service that has been left out of the equation – until the glorious now – is the Coast Guard. Countries have coasts. Earth as a whole doesn’t exactly have a “coast”, but it does have a stretch of territory that it defends and where its laws, rules and regulations hold sway.

Or at least it will in the future, if we ever do manage to get into space for real. And it certainly does in A Pale Light in the Black. Because that’s where this story, and the series that will follow (hopefully really, really SOON) is set among the often looked down upon members of this future’s equivalent of a space Coast Guard, the NeoG.

The Near-Earth Orbital Guard patrols the relatively nearby space where Earth holds sway. Their duty is to protect the “pale light in the black” that is Earth and her colonial interests. Their job is critical, but it isn’t exactly glorious or sexy. The NeoG is underfunded, undermanned, underequipped and underestimated in the Boarding Games that serve as a combination of mass entertainment, wargame training and inter-military rivalry, scorekeeping and grudge-matching, with a plenty of individual service team-building.

The story, and the audience, follow one Lieutenant Maxine Carmichael. Max graduated first in her NeoG Academy class, but has been stationed on Earth ever since, due to the machinations of her rich and powerful family. A family that may have all-but-disowned and abandoned her on the day that she announced she was joining the NeoG instead of either the more prestigious Navy, like her parents and older brother, or the family firm, like her sister.

They abandoned her in the hopes that she would fall back into their cold and distant arms and toe the family line. Instead, she excelled at the career that she had chosen. But then, she never did fit in with the rest of the family.

Still, they pulled strings to keep her stationed safely on Earth – whether that’s what she wanted or not. Then again, what Max wanted seems to have never mattered a damn to her family. When she finally had enough, she applied to be an Interceptor, part of one of the close-knit crews that patrolled the space lanes for contraband, pirates, and general bad actors of all types. There are NO interceptors serving on Earth, so she finally has her posting out in the black as the story opens.

Having achieved her goals does not mean that she isn’t carrying all the emotional baggage her parents loaded her down with and that she doesn’t still have all the buttons they installed. Max has the basics to do her job and do it well, but she has a long way to go to learn how to become a part of a team that treats all its members like family.

Because she has no good experiences of family. At all.

A Pale Light in the Black is Max’s story as she becomes part of the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, finds her place in the NeoG and in the found family that is her ship and crew. And figures out just how to help her team win this year’s Boarding Games.

Meanwhile, Max, her crew, her friends and even her entire branch of the service are investigating an age-old grudge between her family firm and the rivals that everyone believed were long dead. A grudge that could destroy, not just her family, but take half the human population along with it.

No pressure. Compared to that, the Boarding Games are a piece of cake!

Escape Rating A++: I realize that I’m basically squeeing all over the page here. I absolutely loved this book. And there’s enough to unpack to keep me busy until the next book in the series comes out.

First, the worldbuilding here is awesome. Also in a peculiar way a bit scary, because this isn’t a direct progression from our now until then. Instead, we are now in the pre-Collapse world, and our right now is pretty much the “last good time” for a long time. The Collapse Wars are coming, and after that, in about 400 years or so, we reach the time period of the story. “It’s been a long road, getting from there to here.”

I love the way that the author demonstrates that we as a species have also left a whole lot of crap behind on that way between here and there. Not by making a big deal about it, but by showing that things are different through the lack of so much stupid fuss in everyday life. We are capable of better as a species, we just seem to need very hard lessons to reach that point.

Second, this is great competence porn. By that I mean that everyone, not just our hero but everyone in NeoG, is seen to be doing their jobs well all the time. Even the evil people are good at what they do, just that what they do is terrible. But it is terrific to watch and especially identify with a whole lot of folks who are not just dedicated to their jobs but where the ability to do the job well is expected. Heroism is extra. It was also different to see such good competence porn in a story that does not deal with basic training of any kind.

Not that Max doesn’t have plenty to learn, but we don’t follow her going through the Academy. Instead, we follow her as she learns to let down her emotional guards, to let herself accept and be accepted, to figure out what she’s good at and let herself internalize that she has skills and is good enough in all sorts of ways. Her doubts and fears make her human – and they make her easy to identify with and especially empathize with. We all have a little impostor syndrome in us, after all.

Max, however, is actually way beyond good enough, but that’s part of the lesson she needs to learn.

Max’s first year on Zuma’s Ghost, and the timetable for the Boarding Games provide the structure for the story. At the same time, the ghosts that Max has to deal with, the wounds that she needs to heal from, were all inflicted by her family.

And the case that Zuma’s Ghost has to solve, the smugglers and pirates that they have to catch, also deal with her family. The way that Max goes from feeling caught in the middle to knowing exactly where she stands is a big part of her journey. A journey that in many ways reminds me of the character of Ky Vatta in the Vatta’s War and Vatta’s Peace series(es). Ky has to deal with many of the same conflicts between military duty and family obligations. If you like Ky you’ll love Max and vice-versa.

I can’t wait to see where Max – and Zuma’s Ghost – go next!

Review: Junkyard Cats by Faith Hunter

Review: Junkyard Cats by Faith HunterJunkyard Cats by Faith Hunter
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: dystopian, military science fiction, post apocalyptic
Series: Shining Smith #1
Published by Audible Studios on January 2nd 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
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After the Final War, after the appearance of the Bug aliens and their enforced peace, Shining Smith is still alive, still doing business from the old scrapyard bequeathed to her by her father. But Shining is now something more than human. And the scrapyard is no longer just a scrapyard, but a place full of secrets that she has guarded for years.

This life she has built, while empty, is predictable and safe. Until the only friend left from her previous life shows up, dead, in the back of a scrapped Tesla warplane, a note to her clutched in his fingers - a note warning her of a coming attack.

Someone knows who she is. Someone knows what she is guarding. Will she be able to protect the scrapyard? Will she even survive? Or will she have to destroy everything she loves to keep her secrets out of the wrong hands?

My Review:

I picked up Junkyard Cats because it was one of the monthly freebies for Audible members. It looked like interesting SF, had “Cats” in the title, and I was looking for something shorter after spending a whole lot of hours sucked into an excellent but long story and needed a bit of a break.

And did I ever get one. Although Shining Smith doesn’t seem to get many. Ever. At all.

The setting for Junkyard Cats is a remote bit of post-apocalyptic West Virginia in a future that doesn’t seem that far away in time from our present. But it’s clearly one hell of distance down the road to hell.

This is not remotely one of the fun post-apocalypses. Shining Smith’s world is more like Mad Max – possibly Mad Max on steroids. Or on Devil Milk, which actually seems to be worse. Or both.

The sheer bleakness of this post-climate-seriously-changed world reminds me a bit of the world of American War. Only a whole lot worse on the environmental front. But less…awful…in a different way as this wasn’t kicked off by a civil war. At least not so far as we know – yet. And not that it hasn’t become one along the way.

But the story of Junkyard Cats is the story of how Shining’s remote, lonely and seemingly safe little junkyard gets invaded – disrupting her hard-won peace and exposing all of her many, many secrets.

Including the crashed spaceship buried in her backyard. Especially the spaceship buried in her backyard. And the secret hidden in Shining’s radically altered DNA. Her enemies have found her – and so have her friends. Shining’s biggest problem is figuring out which are which.

And letting the cats, her Cats, have the rest. After all, in a world where everything that supports life is very, very scarce, a protein source is much too good to let go to waste.

Escape Rating A-: I really, really wish there was more of this available already, because this first story is a teaser with a lot of worldbuilding, a crew of absolutely fascinating characters – whether organic, partly organic, or artificially intelligent – and a pride of sentient, semi-telepathic warrior cats with an agenda of their own. But then, don’t cats always have an agenda of their own?

Actually, she had me at the cats, but in the end I was equally beguiled by Shining Smith’s world-weary voice. The narrator does an excellent job conveying Shining’s loneliness, her hopes, her fears and especially her desperate need to keep her very motley crew safe and to keep the rest of the world safe from her.

And her complete, total and utter annoyance that the world has come to get her because she couldn’t let go of her past – no matter how much she seriously needed to.

The biggest part of this story is a gigantic battle, conducted all over the junkyard with the help of her friends – including a few that Shining didn’t even know she had – or that some of them even existed in a state that could truly help. And that’s her fault too.

But this is a battle that’s not over when it’s over. The only question is where the next front will be – and who and what Shining can bring to the fight.

As teasers go, Junkyard Cats is one hell of a tease. I just wish I could find some info on where Shining Smith and the Cats go from here. Because they are awesome.

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.

Review: Spaceside by Michael Mammay

Review: Spaceside by Michael MammaySpaceside (Planetside #2) by Michael Mammay
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction, space opera
Series: Planetside #2
Pages: 368
Published by Harper Voyager on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


A military legend is caught in the web between alien intrigue and human subterfuge…

Following his mission on Cappa, Colonel Carl Butler returns to a mixed reception. To some he is a do-or-die war hero. To the other half of the galaxy he’s a pariah. Forced into retirement, he has resettled on Talca Four where he’s now Deputy VP of Corporate Security, protecting a high-tech military company on the corporate battlefield—at least, that’s what the job description says. Really, he’s just there to impress clients and investors. It’s all relatively low risk—until he’s entrusted with new orders. A breach of a competitor’s computer network has Butler’s superiors feeling every bit as vulnerable. They need Butler to find who did it, how, and why no one’s taken credit for the ingenious attack.

As accustomed as Butler is to the reality of wargames—virtual and otherwise—this one screams something louder than a simple hack. Because no sooner does he start digging when his first contact is murdered, the death somehow kept secret from the media. As a prime suspect, he can’t shake the sensation he’s being watched…or finally succumbing to the stress of his past. Paranoid delusion or dangerous reality, Butler might be onto something much deeper than anyone imagined. But that’s where Butler thrives.

If he hasn’t signed his own death warrant.

My Review:

Old soldiers never die, they just fade away. Unless they’ve become well-known but officially exonerated mass murderers. Then they become pointed-at pariahs.

Spaceside is set two years after the events in the totally awesome Planetside. Events that left Colonel Carl Butler forcibly retired, reluctantly divorced, and completely alone on Talca 4, with a cushy job at a mega-corporation that conducts corporate bonding retreats using one of their marquee products, Battlesim!

Also utterly bored, majorly depressed, and drinking way, way too much. He searching for oblivion, but after everything he’s done, it’s not merely elusive, it’s downright non-existent.

Then his boss gives him a mission. He’s supposed to investigate a security breach. Someone hacked their biggest rival, and stole data about a project so secret that no one is willing to admit the hack even happened, let alone what got hacked.

Butler’s no computer whiz, but one of his former soldiers certainly is. And she’s working in the bowels of the same place that he is. Calling in some favors from a former subordinate is easy. Finding a friend of a friend working at that rival company isn’t even that difficult.

Until his source ends up dead. The cops want to pin it on Butler, not because he did it, but because they know he’s hiding something – and they want to know what that something is.

Butler’s hiding a lot, including the fact that he’s started seeing ghosts of the people he killed on Cappa following him around Talca. Where there aren’t supposed to be any Cappans. There aren’t supposed to be any Cappans anywhere off Cappa. After all, his mission in Planetside ended with him bombing Cappa back to the stone age – or so he thought. The events that resulted in his current status as retired, mass-murdering pariah.

It turns out that nothing is as he thought. Not that the old soldier expected anything different. Or better.

After all, he’s gone into every mission he’s ever done knowing that it might be his last. And more than a few where he thought he might get stabbed in the back.

He just never figured on a shot at redemption before the end. Maybe even his end.

Escape Rating A-: The dry, wry, universe-weary voice of Carl Butler carries this story from its mundane beginning to its mic drop end. Told from Butler’s first-person perspective, we are inside his head every step of the way. His internal dialog around and about just how he ended up in this mess, his doubts and fears, makes the reader feel for him as well as with him.

Which makes it easy to get wrapped up in his stubborn refusal to drop an investigation that takes him into dark and deep places – and circles back around to everything that went wrong on Cappa. His ghosts come back to life, but this time they want his help rather than his death. At least some of them do.

It’s his corporate bosses who are in up to their greedy necks in shenanigans that they are willing to kill to keep from seeing the light of day. And they have no problems setting Butler up for the fall – after all, he’s done it before.

It’s Butler’s dogged perseverance that keeps the investigation – and the story – rattling along. Saber-rattling, that is, both figurative and literal.

What makes Butler such a marvelous protagonist is that the old soldier has no intention of being a hero – because he knows that’s mostly bunk even though it’s what people want to believe. What he’s doing is what he did on Cappa, trying to make the best of a terrible job and limit the collateral damage. If he can. Whether he becomes part of it or not.

Spaceside is a book that I’ve been looking forward to for a year. I was over the moon for Planetside last year. It was the right book at the right time and resonated with one of my all-time favorites, Old Man’s War. I’d still like to be a fly on the wall if Carl Butler and John Perry ever get together for drinks.

I enjoyed Spaceside a lot, but it took a bit longer to get into gear, or perhaps into the proper military cadence, than Planetside. We don’t get into the thick of things nearly as fast, but once we do, the race is certainly on.

This could be the end of Carl Butler’s story. Or it might not be. Even if I don’t get to take another trip into Butler’s head, I hope to see much more from the mind of his author.

Review: Planetside by Michael Mammay

Review: Planetside by Michael MammayPlanetside by Michael Mammay
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Series: Planetside #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Voyager on July 31, 2018
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--“PLANETSIDE is a smart and fast-paced blend of mystery and boots-in-the-dirt military SF that reads like a high-speed collision between Courage Under Fire and Heart of Darkness.” – Marko Kloos, bestselling author of the Frontline series

--“Not just for military SF fans—although military SF fans will love it—Planetside is an amazing debut novel, and I’m looking forward to what Mammay writes next.” – Tanya Huff, author of the Confederation and Peacekeeper series

--“A tough, authentic-feeling story that starts out fast and accelerates from there.” – Jack Campbell, author of Ascendant

--“Definitely the best military sci-fi debut I’ve come across in a while.” – Gavin Smith, author of Bastard Legion and Age of Scorpio

A seasoned military officer uncovers a deadly conspiracy on a distant, war-torn planet…

War heroes aren't usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it's something big—and he's not being told the whole story. A high councilor's son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there's no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command.

The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won't come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive…

 

My Review:

If Cold Welcome and Old Man’s War had a love child you might get something like Planetside. And it would be, and is, pretty damn awesome. I would say it’s awesome for a debut novel, but that isn’t nearly praise enough. It’s just plain awesome. Period. Exclamation point.

The story is a combination of military SF with a bit of detective work. Because there’s something wrong on Cappa, and it’s up to Colonel Carl Butler to figure out what. And to contain the problem – no matter the cost.

It begins simply enough – except it isn’t simple at all.

Butler is an old soldier, less than a year away from retirement. He’s been stationed somewhere really, really safe and far from the front lines to serve out his remaining time. But his best friend is the current overall military commander of SPACECOM, and needs the help of a friend that he can trust – not just to keep his secrets – but to make the hard choices and do the right thing without caring how bad it might look. Or be.

A High Councillor’s son is missing on a planet where SPACECOM is engaged in a hot war with the natives over natural resources. All the human settlements need silver, and Cappa is rich in it. Some of the native Cappans, who are an intelligent humanoid but not human species, are fighting with SPACECOM, and some are fighting against it.

In military terms, Cappa is a SNAFU (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up). It’s just a much bigger and nastier SNAFU than anyone is willing to admit. Butler comes in and kicks over the local anthill, and all hell breaks loose.

The investigation has been stalled for months, mostly in red tape. There are three commands on Cappa, SPACECOM, MEDCOM and SPECOPS, and the right hand and the left hand don’t know, don’t care, and don’t have to cooperate with each other or the hand in the middle.

Butler can easily see that there’s a coverup going on – he just can’t make any headway on figuring out who is covering up what.

It’s only when he goes planetside and the situation goes completely pear-shaped that he’s finally able to see the forest for the trees. It’s not just that one thing is wrong – it’s that everything is. And has been. And will be.

Unless Butler contains the whole sad, sorry mess – once and for all.

Escape Rating A+: I just finished and I’m still in shock. This one is going to stick with me for a long, long time.

I used Old Man’s War and Cold Comfort as antecedents because Planetside has strong elements of both of them, and they were themselves both absolute standouts.

The voice of Colonel Carl Butler in Planetside sounds very much like the voice of John Perry in Old Man’s War. They are both, after all, old men still at war. The difference is that Perry has taken his long experience into a new, young body, where Butler’s has all the mileage, artificial parts, aches and pains, of a life lived mostly in battle. Perry’s scars are on the inside, Butler’s are on the outside. But their first-person perspectives sound remarkably similar. They both do what needs to be done, but they both think it through, a lot. And they’ve both been around long enough to recognize bullshit when they hear it and hate it every single time.

There is also an element to both Planetside and the Old Man’s War series that what you think you know, what you’ve been told is true, mostly isn’t.

From Cold Harbor there’s the betrayal from within aspect of the story. Just as Butler learns that an awful lot of people in Cappa Base and on Cappa are getting in the way of his investigation for reasons that he has to figure out, so too does Kylara Vatta have to conduct an investigation under extremely adverse circumstances while fighting against an enemy within, facing betrayal at every turn while the situation goes from bad to awful to completely FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition).

So in Planetside we have the story of a man who has been deliberately placed in a terrible situation by a friend who seems to be exploiting the fact that he has nothing left to lose. Butler is trusted to, not sweep something under the rug, but discover all the awful secrets there are to be discovered and make sure that none of them get out.

We’re inside his head. We feel his frustration, we understand his confusion, and we empathize with his hatred of the obfuscation and the bullshit that is keeping him from getting the job done for no good reason whatsoever. In the end, we ache for his choices but we understand his reasons.

At the end, I’m left with two sets of competing quotes running through my head. In one ear, I’m hearing Robert E. Lee, “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.” In my other ear, it’s Edmund Burke, paraphrased by Simon Wiesenthal, “For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.” And there’s quite a lot of irony that the second quote is from Wiesenthal, a noted Nazi hunter.

I have extremely high hopes for more from this author. Soon, please! I already know that Planetside will be on my Hugo Ballot next year.

Review: The Privilege of Peace by Tanya Huff

Review: The Privilege of Peace by Tanya HuffThe Privilege of Peace (Peacekeepers, #3) by Tanya Huff
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction, space opera
Series: Peacekeeper #3, Confederation #8
Pages: 336
Published by DAW Books on June 19, 2018
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Former space marine Torin Kerr returns for one final adventure to save the Confederation in the last book in the military science fiction Peacekeeper trilogy.

Warden Torin Kerr has put her past behind her and built a life away from the war and everything that meant. From the good, from the bad. From the heroics, from the betrayal. She's created a place and purpose for others like her, a way to use their training for the good of the Confederation. She has friends, family, purpose.

Unfortunately, her past refuses to grant her the same absolution. Big Yellow, the ship form of the plastic aliens responsible for the war, returns. The Silsviss test the strength of the Confederation. Torin has to be Gunnery Sergeant Kerr once again and find a way to keep the peace.

My Review:

If this is truly the end of ex-Gunnery Sergeant now Warden Torin Kerr’s story, I’m going to be very, very sad to see it end. Torin’s story, from its beginning all the way back in Valor’s Choice (nearly 20 years ago, OMG) has been absolutely marvelous.

I began the Valor/Confederation series and the Vatta’s War series at about the same time, so they are both inextricably linked in my memory. They also both finished at the same time, and then revived at about the same time. Wonderful synchronicity.

And they both feature kick-ass, strong, idiosyncratic heroines in vast interstellar space operas. The biggest difference is that Vatta’s War and its sequel series Vatta’s Peace are mercantile space opera, while Confederation/Peacekeeper is strictly military SF.

Torin Kerr begins the series as a Sergeant in the Confederation Marines, and even though at the end of the Confederation series she does manage to retire the sergeant from the Marine Corps, as we, she and her crew discover in An Ancient Peace, the first book in the Peacekeeper sequel series, it is impossible to take the Marine out of the sergeant.

Even in what passes for peacetime, she’s still the Gunny. Mostly. When it counts.

The Privilege of Peace picks up almost immediately after A Peace Divided leaves off. Which means that this is not the place to start. And as much as I loved An Ancient Peace, the first book in the Peacekeeper series, I don’t think that’s the place to start, either. Because this peace, and the characters’ reactions to it, all depend on who and what they were during the late war, and what their relationships to Torin Kerr were during that war. If you enjoy military SF with great characters, terrific world-building and absolutely fantastic heroines, start at the beginning with Valor’s Choice.

And I envy anyone who does a binge-read to “earn” The Privilege of Peace. I’ve read the entire series, but as it was published. Which means that the details of Torin’s history happened even longer ago for me than they do for her. It took awhile for me to get back up to speed on all the names, faces, races, and reasons behind each character’s inclusion in this conclusion.

Because of that “ramp-up” time, the story seemed a bit choppy at points. Lots of characters have similar names, the reader is expected to remember all of their backstory, and the action jumps around a bit. It takes a while to set up the big showdown with “Big Yellow” and the Humans First pukes.

And that’s a hint that there are effectively two different enemies in this book, at least for certain definitions of enemy. Possibly also for certain definitions of factions.

“Big Yellow” turned out to be the enemy of the entire Confederation series. And while the threat of them returning has hung over all of the Peacekeeper series, in Privilege they really are back, and no one is happy about it. But at least now everyone knows that Big Yellow is the big enemy, even if they can’t always recognize its “minions” when they appear. Or disappear. Or hide in plain sight.

That second enemy is the home-grown variety. Humans First will sound familiar in entirely too many contemporary 21st Century ways. They believe that Humans are better than every other race in the galaxy and that the Confederation is holding them back from their greatness. They also believe that violence – along with infiltration and blackmail and other nastinesses – are the way to take their rightful place in the galaxy.

The idea that humans will carry their xenophobia into the stars is more than a bit depressing, but feels all too possible.

Torin and her friends are, as usual, stuck in the middle, caught between the manipulations of Big Yellow, the violence of Humans First, the mind-numbing insanity of Confederation bureaucracy and the secret dreams of the Confederation military.

Peace is a privilege that has to be earned. And as usual, Torin Kerr and her companions are paying for that privilege with their own blood, sweat and hopefully not too many tears.

Escape Rating B: I loved traveling with Torin and Company one more time. Not having just finished a binge of the entire series, it did take a while for me to catch back up, and the longer it has been since the beginning and the more that has happened since that beginning, the longer it seems to take with each book.

The multiple perspectives in The Privilege of Peace made the story seem a bit disjointed at times, but I still liked the journey and felt that the ending was earned. Which means I can only recommend this book to fans of the series. And I still think it is well worth reading the entire series.

The blurbs claim that this is the conclusion of Torin’s journey. If so, I’m sorry to see her go and I’ll miss traveling with her, but she has certainly earned her happy ending. And it is a happy ending – or at least as happy as Torin can manage.

At the same time, there are enough loose, or at least loose-ish, ends that it would be possible for the adventures to continue. And if that occurs, I’ll be glad to watch the Gunny kick more ass and take more names. Anytime. Anyplace. Any galaxy.

Review: Into the Fire by Elizabeth Moon

Review: Into the Fire by Elizabeth MoonInto the Fire (Vatta's Peace, #2) by Elizabeth Moon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Series: Vatta's Peace #2
Pages: 384
Published by Del Rey on February 6th 2018
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In this new military sci-fi thriller from the author of Cold Welcome, space fleet commander Kylara Vatta uncovers deadly secrets on her latest mission--shedding light on her own family's past.

As Admiral Kylara Vatta learned after she and a shipfull of strangers were marooned on an inhospitable arctic island, the secrets she and her makeshift crew uncovered were ones someone was ready to kill to keep hidden. Now, the existence of the mysterious arctic base has been uncovered, but much of the organization behind it still lurks in the shadows. And it is up to the intrepid Ky to force the perpetrators into the light, and finally uncover decades worth of secrets--some of which lie at the very heart of her biggest family tragedy.

My Review:

There’s a saying about war being the continuation of diplomacy by other means. So, also, is politics, particularly the politics of Slotters Key in this second book in the Vatta’s Peace series. And in the case of this series, it’s that politics are the continuation of diplomacy by other means, diplomacy is the continuation of politics by other means, and even, finally, that war is the continuation of politics by other means, which was not what von Clausewitz originally meant.

But it all makes for compelling reading.

Into the Fire is the second volume in the series, after last year’s marvelous Cold Welcome. And it is a direct sequel to the first. All of the action in Into the Fire is a result of the mess that was uncovered in Cold Welcome, as well as the culmination of strikes against the Vatta family that have been going on since all the way back in the first book in the Vatta’s War series, Trading in Danger. And it turns out that some of that mess relates to events far, far back in the past of the Vatta family, particularly back into the past of Ky’s Great-Aunt Grace, currently the Rector for Defense (think Secretary of Defense in the US Cabinet). The skeletons in Graciela Vatta’s closet have burst out of hiding, and with a vengeance. Or certainly with vengeance in mind.

The first half of Into the Fire is almost completely political. There are forces moving against Grace, Ky, Ky’s fiance Rafe Dunbarger, and all of the soldiers that she found herself in command of in the snafu that occurred in Cold Welcome. In that first book, Ky and her shipmates crashed on what was supposed to be the barren continent of Miksland on Slotter Key, only to discover that Miksland was far from barren, rich in mineral wealth, and that someone had been conducting military exercises on its supposedly empty landscape. And that whatever may be happening on Miksland now, someone, or rather a whole succession of someones, has been successfully hiding the truth about Miksland not just for years, but for centuries.

There’s a lot rotten somewhere in the military, and its up to Ky to ferret it out. Particularly after whoever is rotten systematically whisks all of the soldiers who were part of Ky’s discovery into quarantine, where they can be abused, drugged and eventually murdered without ever being able to reveal what they saw.

At first, Ky is both kept hopping and stuck in her own version of purgatory. At the same time that she discovers that her crew is imprisoned, she finds herself under house arrest and Grace is poisoned. Someone very high up in the government is questioning Ky’s Slotter Key citizenship, with an eye to having her arrested by Customs and Immigration, and then whisked away to the same drugged confinement as her crewmates.

But Ky is wilier than that, and she has the vast resources of Vatta Enterprises behind her, even if she is no longer a shareholder in the company. She’s still a Vatta. And someone is clearly out to get the Vattas. Still. Again.

And someone has upped their timetable on whatever it was they were planning and plotting out in desolate Miksland. Whether those are the same someones, and what Ky can manage to do about them, take the story from politics straight into war.

But if there’s one thing that Admiral Kylara Vatta is good at, it’s war. She and her allies just have to hope that she is better at it than her well-entrenched enemies. And that the butcher’s bill won’t be too high.

Escape Rating A: This was a “just sit there and read” kind of book. It sucked me in from the very first page, and didn’t let go until the end. Actually, I’m not sure it’s let go even yet.

That being said, this is a book that will make no sense to someone who has not read Cold Welcome. I think that the background from the further past is explained enough that you don’t have to read all of Vatta’s War to get into Vatta’s Peace or at least you certainly don’t have to have read it recently. But if you like mercantile/military SF I highly recommend it.

I initially read Vatta’s War in roughly the same time period that I read the Honor Harrington series and Tanya Huff’s Valor (Confederation) series. All three series feature kick-ass military heroines who we meet roughly at the beginning of their careers and who face bigger enemies and greater dangers as they advance. They also pick up great friends, a cohort of companions, and soldiers that will do sacrifice anything for them, and sometimes pay the ultimate price. In the end I gave up on Honor as she seemed to become her very own deus ex machina, but I’ve stuck with both Ky Vatta and Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr of the Valor series, and still enjoy their adventures. All of this to say if you like one, you’ll probably like the other. And I’d love to be a fly on the wall if Ky and Torin ever go out for drinks together.

Into the Fire is a densely political book. The entire first half is primarily the set up, as Ky and company find themselves stuck in various places, trying to find ways around the corrupt and/or clueless branches of officialdom that are trying to keep the truth about Miksland under wraps for as long as possible.

This part of the story reads very much like a spy thriller, with the villains trying to flush out the heroes and the heroes trying to get information without tipping off the villains. Meanwhile the disinformation campaign fomented by the villains just confuses the civilians and makes the job of the heroes that much harder. A lot goes wrong in the first half of the book, leaving Ky, Grace and the reader all frustrated at just how difficult it is to fix this mess.

The second half of the book is all action. Once Ky and company find enough trustworthy people to work with on both the military and the civilian sides, the official logjam gets broken and Ky and her friends are on the move – rooting out the corruption, investigating the conspiracy and most importantly, rescuing Ky’s people before they can be wiped out. It’s a wild and compelling rollercoaster ride from that point on. The reader just can’t turn the pages fast enough. Or at least this reader certainly couldn’t.

This isn’t a story that delves a lot into personalities. It’s all about the action. And that’s non-stop from the moment Ky gets out of house arrest until the book’s breath-stealing conclusion.

The comment at the end of the book is absolutely marvelous, and so completely true. “Vatta’s peace may not be perfect, but it could have been worse.” The book, on the other hand, could not have been better.

Into the Fire does end in a proper closure, as Cold Welcome did not. However, there are enough small loose ends that the series could continue if the author wished. This reader certain wishes very, very hard.

Guest Review: Outsystem by M. D. Cooper

Guest Review: Outsystem by M. D. CooperOutsystem (The Intrepid Saga #1) by M.D. Cooper
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Intrepid Saga #1
Pages: 350
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on July 9th 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Major Richards needs to get out of the Sol System

Demoted by the military and hung out to dry, the media labels her the Butcher of Toro. Despite her soiled record, Tanis still one of the best military counter-insurgency officers in the Terran Space Force.

And they need her to find the terrorists responsible for trying to destroy the GSS Intrepid, a massive interstellar colony ship in the final phases of construction at the Mars Outer Shipyards.

It’ll be her ticket out of the Sol system, but Tanis discovers she is up against more than mercenaries and assassins. Major corporations and governments have a vested interest in ensuring the Intrepid never leaves Sol, ultimately pitting Tanis against factions inside her own military.

With few friends left, Tanis will need to fight for her life to get outsystem.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Amazon showed me this book at some point, trying to entice me into a Kindle Unlimited subscription; I didn’t buy the subscription, but at 99 cents, the book was a cheap read anyway. When I got to it, I opened it with no expectations at all, other than some geeky sci-fi.

Guest Review by Amy:

It’s the 42nd Century, and Major Tanis Richards is part of a crack counter-insurgency and intel unit, but she’s gotten into trouble; she’s infamous, you see, for some awfulness she did a while back. We’re never told quite what she did, but her fame precedes her. Tanis is ready to leave the Sol system for good, on the greatest colony ship ever built. It’s a new age of colonization, and the Intrepid is the first of its kind: a ship that will carry huge colony ships to another star, then drop them off and return to Earth.  The colonists–and indeed much of the crew–will ride in stasis the whole trip.

Major Richards has gotten a spot on the colony roster; not, we may hope, that her skills as an intel officer will be needed. She’s ready to give up her long career in the military, and just be a colonist, but until Intrepid leaves, she’s in charge of security. And there are villains out there who do not want the mighty ship to ever launch! They quite-rightly see Tanis as the fly in the ointment that will keep them from destroying the giant interstellar vessel.

Escape Rating A+: This is my first foray into author M. D. Cooper’s Aeon 14 universe, and I’m seriously impressed. It’s a rich, solid milleu for the characters’ adventures. While mankind has progressed dramatically in 21 centuries from where we are now, even to having a ring around Mars, we still see the same human problems of greed and hatred, and the same diversity of thought and creativity that we do in our own world. The heroine of our tale, Tanis Richards, is a very, very competent, strong woman, dedicated to her job almost to a fault. She takes her lumps from the villains, but will not be silenced. Her life in the military rings true for anyone who’s been around the military for any length of time (Marines are still Marines, OOOH-RAH!), even down to bureaucratic nonsense getting in the way of the mission. This tale even has a little bit of a love interest, which Tanis must put off for a little bit while all the action happens.

I get it. Hard sci-fi isn’t for everyone, and neither is military fiction. Cooper manages to tell us a hard sci-fi story without swamping us in the details, and tells us a military story without burying us in jargon. Action, good leadership, intrigue, a slight touch of romance–it’s all in here, in a nice pleasant mix. There was one sour note for me: remember how Major Richards is in counter-insurgency and intel? She has to take measures to get some information out of someone–many, many lives are on the line, and she must break them, and quickly. Her methods are…unpleasant. But the scene is mercifully brief, and Richards clearly struggles with the necessity of doing what she does. It’s the only rough patch in what was, for me, a wholeheartedly great read. I’m looking forward to picking up more of M. D. Cooper’s work!