Archive for the ‘Military sci-fi’ Category

As a pre-teen youngster Drangonlance novels and the world of Warhammer 40K were some of my favourite things to read and “play” ( I preferred trying to paint the miniatures but I was never any good). Recently, I came across a signed copy of Gav Thorpe’s Space Hulk novel for just a few quid and couldn’t stop myself from picking it up.

Based on the board game, which I used to play (with my badly painted models), Space Hulk follows a squad of heavily armoured Space Marines as they look to avenge a centuries old defeat at the hands of an alien species. If you’ve not come across it before, think about the movie Aliens but with more armour and you’re close to what the game and novel are all about. Aboard a twisted conglomeration of space ships, the Terminators are sent to hunt down the aliens and collect data. Dark tunnels and walkways create a sprawling, hard to navigate terrain for the Space Marines as they seek their revenge.

The premise is somewhat simple but the novel still packs an entertaining punch. The squads of Marines, decked out in their Terminator suits, are tasked with holding the front line whilst other elements of the task force prepare a deadly toxin to kill off the horde of aliens. But, it’s not an easy ask. The alien hive mind is quick to learn and, like a swarm of insects, use their numbers as a tactic. In the tunnels and strange spaces of the sprawling ship, deadly engagements begin to take a toll. However, for the Marines, defeat is not an option.

When things escalate further, the battle becomes more than just an exercise in vengeance. Restoring the honour of their battalion and retrieving a long lost artifact adds an extra burden and, with dwindling resources, and a relentless enemy, the Terminators must use all their resolve to achieve victory.

It’s a fun, short read, well executed by Gav Thorpe who does an excellent job of revealing just enough about the universe of Warhammer without overwhelming the reader with details and lore. Space Hulk is violent and atmospheric military science fiction and all the better for it.

Published by Black Library

My copy

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Richard K Morgan’s latest novel is, without a doubt, an amazing read. His special blend of cyberpunk, crime thriller, sci-fi action is as unique as his voice and is put together so well, so seamlessly, that there was a point where I had to stop reading and acknowledge, out loud, just how great the author is at his trade.

Set on a colonised Mars, Thin Air is, however, more than the sum of its parts. Whilst the plot weaves and wends and the story grips from the opening gambit right up until the last sentence, there’s much to read within it about the human condition and all our meat-wrapped foibles. Yet, and yet again, it is the story that powers it all and Thin Air is a tour de force.

Following Hak Veil, a bio-engineered corporate soldier, we are shown a Mars decades into its colonisation, with a society largely separated from Earth, living under a massive atmospheric dome and etching out hard lives at the frontier of humanities technological expansion. There’s a neo-western edge to the whole premise and Veil is the perfect morally grey protagonist that stalks throughout. Corruption and cut-throat business prevail and, as a skilled and dangerous enforcer, Veil has seen it all since being dumped on Mars by his former employer.

Yet, though business and tech is booming in that wild and lawless ecosphere, Earth wants to keep a handle on its fractious brethren. An audit team is sent to investigate the rampant corruption all caught up in a lottery scheme that seems to be disappearing its lucky winners instead of giving them their prize of a trip back to Earth. And Veil is tasked with helping out a second string Earth official who very quickly finds herself in deep trouble. It’s the thread that unravels the whole mess but Veil has to work blind, against all manner of obstacles as he tries to run down the truth. The more he digs, the deeper the rot goes.

Hak Veil is a brilliant character; hardbitten, hardwired for combat and hard to kill. Gritty and mission driven ( due to his engineering) there’s no stopping the “Black Hatch man” once he’s unleashed and it’s a theme that powers the story along. Yet, this isn’t a fast read. There’s so much given in the prose and such amazing detail offered as the world is revealed around the cast of actors. Like his Takeshi Kovacs novels or his Land Fit for Heroes series, Thin Air manages, and succeeds, to create a stunning combination of elements into a book that will transport you to another place.

Truly remarkable, I sincerely hope Hak Veil makes another appearance.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

If you haven’t read the first book in Gavin Smith’s The Bastard Legion series, then beware of spoilers ahead….

In The Hangman’s Daughter, the first in the series, we met Miska Corbin and her army of prisoners, enslaved and forced to do her bidding as mercenaries via explosive collars and the threat of immediate death. As that book unfolded we learnt the real reason behind her piracy of the prison barge and what was behind her motives. The murder of her father and her subsequent deep, deep black op mission set her on a course of undeniable mayhem. Her father’s killers were on board the barge and her cover as a merc gone crazy was a ruse.

However, running that cover story requires her to take on contracts and, in Friendly Fire, Miska and her team are tasked with recovering an alien artifact. By recover, read steal using any means necessary. It’s another undercover mission given by her, frankly, misguided CIA handler yet the stakes are extremely high.

All manner of obstacles lay in Miska’s path not least being that the world on which the artifact has been found is home to a number of her prisoners. People whose family (and criminal fraternity) would very much like them set free. The mission, understandably, turns into a horror show as enemies come out of the woodwork from all directions, some who want Miska dead whilst others want her captured, not least of those her own sister. Added to that is the fact that the object isn’t what they thought it was and the people in possession of it are much more prepared than Miska was led to believe. Hunted and hated from all sides, Miska must try to balance it all whilst staying alive so that she can discover who killed her father and why it was covered up.

Smith weaves the story with his normal, casual brilliance blending action shootouts, weird technology, human problems and fantastic world building into one awesome package. His ability to add flavours from different genres – such as Italian mobsters, Yakuza gangs, alien tech and crime heists- into the mix, displays a clear sense of fun, something which oozes from the pages. Military sci-fi is in capable hands when Gavin Smith opens up the throttle of his imagination and Friendly Fire is an exceptional example of his skill as a storyteller.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

So, once again, I’m back. It’s starting to sound a little repetitive, like an overly used catchphrase, but..I’m back reviewing. Suffice it to say, life gets in the way. Having said that, let’s get started.

The Bastard Legion is a fantastic way to fire this blog back up. It’s a fast paced, high action, blood and guts thriller of a ride. Like a lot of Gavin Smith’s (aka Gavin G Smith) books, the characters are brilliant, the dialogue tight and the world building epic.

Set four hundred years in the future, in the aftermath of an alien war, humanity has spread far into space. But, humans being humans, little has changed about our inner nature. Corporations rule, capitalism remains king and politics is still a subject best avoided. Smith’s novel opens with his protagonist, Miska Corbin, taking her enslaved penal legion on a mission both morally ambiguous and dangerous. As the action unfolds, we learn a much about the future world and Miska; a former space marine with a furious temper, an equally intimidating sister, and a father whose legend as one of the toughest sergeants in the force still holds true, all of which informs much of her decisions.

After stealing a huge prison barge full of some of the worst criminals, Miska sets about becoming a mercenary for hire. Slaved to her every whim by explosive collars, the prisoners are trained in virtual reality by the ghost of Corbin’s father and drilled into something resembling a fighting force. What happens next is a tale of deceit, double crosses and brutal action.

Underneath it all, we begin to discover the motive behind Miska’s decision to go from black ops marine to mercenary and, with Smith’s usual skill, the truths underlying it all reveal a greater, even more thrilling prospect for the series. It’s like the Dirty Dozen on steriods. In space. And it is awesome.

The Bastard Legion is a brilliantly fun read. Action, adventure, space battles and close quarter combat in equal measure all underpinned by a bigger mystery as prisoners become soldiers, lines are blurred between right and wrong, and Miska shows just how prepared she is to find the truth. This military-esque sci-fi at its finest.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

The Takeshi Kovacs series by Richard K Morgan are among some of my favourite books. The world building and vision is astounding whilst the gritty and cynical protagonist, coupled with the hectic action, combines to form a top notch cyberpunk novel. Thankfully, the Netflix produced T.V series captured all of this in full technicolour.

For those not in the know (unlikely), Altered Carbon is a crime thriller set in a far future where humanity has achieved the ability to download one’s personality and, in theory, live forever by using different ‘sleeves’ or bodies. Space travel is possible by needlecasting; sending your personality data to be downloaded into another body. The possibilities of the tech are far-reaching, creating a fecund and fascinating culture as a background to an intriguing story.

Takeshi Kovacs is one of those used to being resleeved. An Envoy with special training he is tasked with unravelling the mystery of why an obnoxiously wealthy man, who is basically immortal, would kill himself. The man in question has, himself, resleeved and questions abound; was he killed or did he commit suicide.

The resulting merry-go-round that Kovacs finds himself upon is both brutal and eye-opening. He uncovers all manner of disturbing truths about the unobtainably rich, called Meths, such as his employer’s predilection for rape/murder. There are worlds within worlds and layers upon layers of deceptions and double backs as people scrabble for power and status.

The T.V. Series is a visual riot grasping the world Richard K Morgan has created with a brilliance that dazzles. Equally, Kovacs, played by Joel Kinnaman, is wonderfully jaded yet excellently threatening. The weirdness of the ‘sleeves’ is captured amazingly well, causing a considered disturbance to much of the story whilst the action is violent and breathtaking. The series even got the A.I. hotel down too.

Whilst there might be a few niggles ( why they changed Kovacs backstory as an Envoy from the original book version), this is a thoroughly enjoyable, sumptuously created piece of visual entertainment. I’m really looking forward to the next season because, if it’s anything like the books, it should be awesome.

Following on from An Ancient Peace, Tanya Huff’s next novel in the series is, to put it mildly, awesome. Still trying to find her place as a Warden, ex- Gunnery Sargeant Kerr and her motley crew continue to work to keep the peace in a universe recovering from decades of war and the knowledge that it was a manufactured experiment by a bizarrely alien species.

After stopping a shipment of weapons from being sold illegally, Kerr and her team begin to uncover a plot designed to destabilise the peace between the ‘Elder’ races and newer members of the Confederation (such as Humans) as well as their old enemies, the Primacy. But, things are complicated. Not only is Kerr restricted by her new position as a Warden (and the Elder races obsession against the use of force) but she and her team must strive to keep the fragile treaties in place between the Confederation and Primacy.

All of that is made more difficult with the next mission handed to Kerr and her squad. When scientists discover plastic on a world where civilisation has disappeared en masse, a third party of mercenaries take the scientists hostage thinking the discovery of a plastic alien destroying weapon has been made. Adding even more complexity to the situation, Kerr is assigned a team of Primacy counterparts to accompany the rescue attempt.

Tanya Huff uses the set piece of the rescue mission to unpack and explore all the political intrigue and machinations of her universe. Old enemies are forced to work together, former soldiers broken by war and abandoned by their governments struggle to find peace, and bigoted extremists justify their racist ideologies as they seek revenge in all the wrong places. The boundaries are constantly blurred and redrawn as the hostages, mercenaries, Wardens and Primacy agents struggle to achieve their aims all against the backdrop of the plastic aliens’ troubling presence.

A Peace Divided, manages to be both action packed and thrilling whilst also considering some interesting ideas about post-war politics and cultural divides (as well as showing the total idiocy and pointlessness of racism). Behind the rescue mission stands a nefarious yet powerful antagonist, one who will no doubt appear later in the series, as Kerr and her strike team manage to overcome the odds and, once more, display what makes them such an elite force.

Huff continues her amazing world building, delving deeper into the politics of the situation whilst producing a fantastic, fun and frantic read. Personally, I can’t wait for more.

Review copy

Published by Titan Books

This is another of those books that I stumbled upon in a charity shop which had long been on my list to read. Written by co-authors Chris Bunch and Allan Cole in 1982, Sten is a military sci-fi adventure set far in the future and full to the brim with action.

Considering when it was produced, the novel does a great job at subverting the premise of a benevolent empire, focusing on a factory planet named Vulcan. Within, migrant workers (or Migs), are trapped in never ending contracts, forcing them and their children into a life of servitude. The company that owns the planet is a ruthless hierarchy of elitist capitalists who care for nothing other than profit. The Eternal Emperor, for whom the company works, turns a blind eye so long as the company remains loyal.

The company, and Vulcan, is run by one Baron Thoresen, a man of epic ambitions and absolutely no morals. When he carelessly murders hundreds of Migs, he sets in motion his own demise. One of the families he jettisons into space belongs to a young boy called Sten. Smart and capable, Sten, however, finds himself under the grindstone of the company and in short order begins to rebel. Soon, he tries to escape Vulcan, bringing himself to the attention of the Empire’s military when he joins a group of likeminded youngsters living in the tunnels and vents of the factory planet.

What ensues is a story of rebellion and revenge peppered with classic military sci-fi boot camp episodes, guerilla warfare and pitched battles as Sten makes his way back to Vulcan to end Thoresen’s reign of terror. The book is a fast, no-frills read and all the better for it. Sten is action packed and great fun. As the start of a series, this is a must for pulpy military action enthusiasts.

My copy

Published by Orbit

After the amazing debut, Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee has built on that success with the exceptional Raven Stratagem. Further exploring the larger universe, including the complicated political landscape of the hexarchate, this series is space opera at its finest. Battles large and small, both physical and intellectual abound in a story peopled by gripping cast of characters.

Following the protagonist Cheris/Jedao as they embark on what seems to be a madness induced campaign of warfare, Raven Stratagem drives forward with a thrilling story while setting up a number of ideas for the next book. Turning the hexarchate’s calendrical mathematics against them, Jedao/Cheris is able to take over a huge fleet of Kel ships yet continues to pursue the enemies of the ruling hegemony instead of attacking it. Whilst one Lieutenant is able to resist Jedao’s commands, the fleet is soon gaining popularity and traction in a universe desperate to find hope and freedom from the stifling rule of the hexarchate.

But, nothing is as it seems. The various factions and their leaders are simultaneously at each other’s throats whilst pursuing similar goals. Equally, Jedao/Cheris isn’t trying to murder innocent populations on undefended planets but is, instead, looking to protect those people and maintain a sense of order within the greater culture.

Raven Stratagem is full of intrigue, covert agendas, space battles and wonderful, intoxicating world-building. Yoon Ha Lee has a unique vision and voice and this is definitely a fantastic series for fans of sci-fi.

Review copy

Published by Solaris Books

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Alex Lamb’s debut novel, Roboteer, is a fascinating read; big worldbuilding, big ideas and what feels to be the start of a new voice in space opera/hard science fiction. Set in a far future where Earth has been united under a pseudo-religious, political dictatorship whose aim is to subjugate humanities colonies on other planets and in other star systems, the conflict rests on Earth’s scarcity against the colonies technological superiority. It’s a manufactured war: the colonies are defending themselves whilst Earth promotes bizzare, almost racist ideologies.

Told through the eyes of three different characters, we get to see much of Earth’s political elite as well as the colony homeworld Galatea. Will Kuno-Monet is the eponymous Roboteer, a genetically modified human, designed to control and understand robots and computer systems; Ira Baron-Lecke is a Galatean starship captain who heads up covert missions into enemy territory; Gustav Ulanu is an Earther, a general but a scientist first, and one who has discovered ancient alien technologies. It is with Gustav that the story hinges for his discovery unlocks a set of parameters that will change the whole of humanity’s fate.

Soon both factions are vying for control of the alien relics but it is Will who makes the first meaningful contact. The revelations he is exposed to change everything he knows about his race, the universe and humanity’s place within it all. Yet, these aliens (or rather those behind the ruins) are testing humans and the consequences are dire. So begins an epic journey as Will must convince not only his crew mates but also his enemies that the ancient artefacts they have discovered are lures; the survival of humanity rests on how they proceed to use that technology – whether for warfare or for advancement.

It’s a great concept and there are some interesting discussions about what makes us human, what those limits might be where technology and modification is concerned, and how blind, unquestioning ideology does not constitute knowledge. There’s really little concern that Will and his crew won’t succeed but the journey there is fascinating. Amazing ancient alien ruins, complex political landscapes and intense space warfare abound, along with some unreliable yet semi-altruistic extraterrestrial intelligence. Alex Lamb achieves both good science and good fiction, creating big, believable sci-fi.

A brilliant cast of actors and a superbly crafted set of futuristic ideas makes Roboteer a highly enjoyable read. The worldbuilding and creations the author explores are exceptional and my only caveat was that we didn’t get to look further into the Earth he sketches out nor some of the more interesting concepts behind the colonies. But, as the start of a trilogy, here’s hoping.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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If you’ve ever read any of Gavin G. Smith’s work before, you’ll understand why his latest offering jumped to the top of the reading pile. First, I’m going to give you the blurb that hooked me and then try to review the book without giving too much away..

1987, THE HEIGHT OF THE COLD WAR. For Captain Vadim Scorlenski and the rest of the 15th Spetsnaz Brigade, being scrambled to unfamiliar territory at no notice, without a brief or proper equipment, is more or less expected; but even by his standards, their mission to one of the United States’ busiest cities stinks…

World War III was over in a matter of hours, and Vadim and most of his squad are dead, but not done. What’s happened to them, and to millions of civilians around the world, goes beyond any war crime; and Vadim and his team – Skull, Mongol, Farm Boy, Princess, Gulag, the Fräulein and New Boy – won’t rest until they’ve seen justice done.

Reading the synopsis reminded me of all those 1980s survivalist/post-apocalyptic pulp novels I read as a kid. I’m not going to lie, it excited me and the opening gambit certainly lived up to expectations. Gavin G. Smith knows his way around the fast paced, ballet of violence that an action novel requires. Special Purposes: First Strike Weapon is wild. Adrenaline fuelled fire fights against gut wrenching odds are packed into a story that manages to remain grounded and considered despite the full-bore craziness of a post-apocalyptic background.

The squad led by the protagonist Vadim are a fantastic cast and the banter and comraderie is brilliantly wrought. The fact that Smith is able to include some moral philosophising amongst the blood bath battles is impressive, adding yet another layer. It’s the best of survivalist pulp fiction added to a strong plot and exceptional writing.

Special Purposes: First Strike Weapon is pure, unapologetic, full-throttle, action packed awesomeness. Beginning to end, the atmospheric ride is an absolute firestorm. There’s so much more to say but I don’t want to spoil anything too much. Safe to say, Vadim and his squad end up as both enemy and protector in a world gone mad. Plus, there’s the all out slaughter of a group of racist, neo-nazi, war re-enactors which is just the icing on a brutal cake of an exceptional book. Obviously, the author had too much fun and I hope, somehow, he revisits this world again.

Review copy
Published by Abaddon Books