Archive for the ‘Military sci-fi’ Category

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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

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Alastair Reynolds’ Slow Bullets is a novella of epic proportions. Though his earlier books were hard sci-fi in every sense, this work has a fairly simple premise and is written using a straightforward first-person narrative. However, in no way does this stop the novella from being full of intriguing ideas or a setting both sublime and awe inspiring. It’s as though Reynolds’ writing prowess is such that he is able to delineate his work, sketching complex worlds without resorting to complicated machinations.

Because, what begins as a tale of revenge, albeit in a setting discombobulating for our protagonists, evolves into something disconcertingly tangled. After a ceasefire is announced, bringing a halt to a vast and terrible war, Scur (our narrator) is captured and subjected to a terrible torture. Left for dead, she continues to fight for survival. Yet, when she wakes it is on a huge spaceship; she doesn’t know how she got there or why. But, quickly, it becomes apparent that the ship is malfunctioning and its cargo of passengers are still divided by the conflict.

Scur takes control of the situation in the only way she knows the soldiers will understand, bringing about a tense sort of peace. Soon, she and her companion, Prad, a technician on the ship, discover more worrying truths. The ship is slowly degrading, losing its functions and memory yet, more importantly, is the fact that they have been adrift in space for centuries. Everything they knew is gone. Unachored, this transport full of soldiers and civilians, both good and bad, must find a way to survive but also save the history, knowledge and culture of their lost worlds.

Amidst all this, Scur finds her tormentor. And, it is here that the narrative begins to unravel, revealing differing perspectives against the backdrop of a dying spaceship, lost memories and a civilisation destroyed by an unimaginable enemy. Slow Bullets questions that which anchors identity, whether personal or cultural, producing an atmospheric consideration of the human condition. Once again, Alastair Reynolds has produced a fascinating work of fiction that grips the imagination.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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I was pleasantly surprised by Rogue One for a number of reasons. Set a decade or so after the events of Catalyst, this latest offering in the Star Wars universe is, somehow, unique whilst simultaneously dovetailing into the events of A New Hope (what we older folk would know as Star Wars). It’s exceptionally well put together and, in no way, feels contrived. What it does is create a brilliant ensemble cast of characters all the while detailing their struggles against the threat of the Empire.

When I say struggles, I mean truly terrible hardships, crushing personal loss and unflinching sacrifice. And when I say threat, I mean a vast, cruelly efficient machine prepared to destroy all opposition. Whilst Star Wars may be considered as a simple dichotomy between good and evil, Rogue One looks into the implications of this conflict, throwing up some interesting reflections on an insurgent rebellion trying to combat a larger, better supplied and politically homogenous force.

I digress though. Rogue One continues the story of the manipulated genius Galen Erso and his tormentor, Orson Krennic. Recaptured and widowed, Galen is forced into completing his work on Krennic’s super weapon. However, the scientist had the foresight to set in place safety procedures for his daughter Jyn. It is through Jyn that we discover more about the universe at large, the rebellion and those fighting against the Empire. Effectively orphaned, she is saved by Saw Gerrera, an uncompromising freedom fighter; its an upbringing that leaves her a fierce, hardened survivor.

Yet, though she has tried to lose herself, hiding away from her past and the rebellion, her importance sets her on a course straight to the heart of the Death Star. Saved from prison, Jyn is sent on a mission to talk to Saw in the hope that he will help the rebels locate Galen Erso. Accompanying her is Cassian Andor, a spy and ardent rebel, along with K-2, a reprogrammed Imperial droid. As soon as the companions reach Saw’s home world, Jedha, things really kick off.

Erso had sent a young pilot, an Imperial deserter, to Saw with a message that he had sabotaged the Death Star. But, Saw has fallen out with the rebel leaders whilst Jyn is no fan of either parties. However, the Empire is hot on their heels and soon Jyn, Cassian along with the pilot, Bohdi, as well as two Guardiams of the Whills, Chirrut and Baze, are fighting for their lives. It is this nucleus that forms Rogue One; from faith, hatred, need and vengeance, hope for a better future is forged.

Jyn and her allies are unable to convince the fractured and complex union of the rebellion that her father has secreted a way for them to defeat the Death Star amongst its schematics and plans. They take fate into their own hands and embark on mission to retrieve the plans and give the universe a chance to free itself from the tyranny of the Empire. Each character has their own motivations, each makes their own choices and it’s a frantic conclusion to an accomplished story.

This isn’t simple sci-fi in my book; it’s gritty and heartfelt. Rogue One shows just how brave the rebels were and just what the Death Star meant for the universe. It’s about sacrifice, redemption and belief against all odds, and it’s a brilliant slice of Star Wars action adventure.

Review copy
Published by Century

Continuing the tradition of rounding up my best reads of the year, I’m going to do my utmost to pick some of the top books from a heap of excellent work I’ve had the pleasure to review. It’s taken some serious beard stroking and moustache twiddling but here goes…

I’ve read some great horror stories this year, two of which really stood out – Nod by Adrian Barnes and A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. Though very different both were psychological thrillers that picked away at the fabric of reality, personality and what grounds us in truth. Pleasingly, the shock and terror of each novel was produced alongside excellent writing and superb characters, making them both very memeorable books.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu was one of my top fantasy novel reads, in close contention with Brian McClellan’s The Crimson Campaign. A brilliant setting made even more enjoyable by the distinct and well defined protagonists, The Grace of Kings managed to mix political intrigue, epic battles and an original, atmospheric world. It’s quality fantasy in every sense.

When it comes to top notch, awesome fantasy, Joe Abercrombie consistently serves up some of the very best. His short story collection, Sharp Ends, set in his First Law universe was, without a doubt, sheer brilliance. New characters were introduced, older actors had their origin stories told and the whole world he’s built is weaved together with exceptional skill. Hugely enjoyable, Sharp Ends is a big, bold barnburner.

Whilst I admit I’m a fan of action, adventure and gritty battle based fiction, I’ve had the chance to read some intelligent and mindful science fiction this year. Savant by Vik Abnett epitomised that. Unique worldbuilding, a slightly retro yet original tone and an engaging story revolving around mathematics and companionship, this was a standout novel in my year.

Featuring a very different yet equally enthralling maths based concept, Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit is an amazing novel. Distinctive and innovative, Yoon Ha Lee’s inspired setting brings a new vibe to sci-fi. As I said in my review, ‘It’s a stunning piece of creativity that melds futuristic ideas of technology and the feel of an epic space opera with the ephemeral and magical vibe of pure fantasy’.

Finally, the self-published novel from Malcolm F Cross, Dog Country, proved to be another highlight. A thought provoking look at geo-political warfare, Dog Country is a brilliantly written piece of military sci-fi. Genetically modified, humanoid, dog soldiers fighting in a crowdfunded revolution whilst, simultaneously, trying to find their place in a society that created yet rejected them. Great characters, a clever concept and an even better plot.

I’ve also watched a few decent films but hats off to Mad Max:Fury Road. Though time has been a precious commodity this year (my wife and I still haven’t started season 7 of TWD) I did manage to catch Westworld and the sixth series of The Walking Dead – I will have some posts on that very soon.

I’m whittling my way through my reading pile and have some interesting books lined up. It’s been a good year for reading and I’m looking forward to more reviews and interviews.
Happy reading!

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Set firmly between the films Revenge Of The Sith and A New Hope, James Luceno’s Catalyst features as a prequel to the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One. While some of the finer details may have been lost on me, a casual Star Wars fan, those more invested in the universe will, no doubt, find much to explore.

And, this is what I enjoy so much about shared world, tie-in works of fiction; they can be enjoyed by nearly everyone. Catalyst (much like The Force Awakens) captures the essence of the original trilogy of films released in the late 1970’s. A healthy dose of political intrigue mixed with a massive, far reaching universe, all tied together with the fight between good and evil.

Catalyst focuses on the emergence of the Death Star and the machinations behind its inception, much of it revolving around Galen Erso. Though trying to remain neutral in the war between Separatists and Republic, his genius and its value makes him a pawn in the growing conflict as the Empire begins to emerge. Ostensibly rescued from imprisonment by Orson Krennic, a driven and determined member of the Empire, Erso, along with his wife Lyra and daughter Jyn, swap one prison for another.

Krennic is ruthless in his pursuit for success in the new order of things. Erso is a mere cog, albeit an important one, in realising a weapon so powerful that Emperor Palpatine won’t be able to deny Krennic’s significance. What follows is a compelling game of strategy as Krennic attempts to manoeuvre players to his whim, especially keeping the pacifist Erso working on his energy project while using the data to construct the Death Star’s massive laser system.

The novel really picks up the pace in the last quarter as Moff Tarkin discovers that he is also being played by Krennic and begins his own campaign. Similarly Lyra, with the help of Has Obitt, another pawn, go off script. It is here that so many threads begin to coalesce into the bigger Star Wars picture. Rebel alliances form, the faceless Empire, epitomised by the Death Star, takes shape whilst the battle lines between good and evil are drawn on both a personal and intergalactic level.

Though the idea of the Force and the Dark side are writ large throughout Star Wars, it’s also the individual decisions that are so important and James Luceno does a great job of putting such obstacles in the way of his characters. Erso must choose between his family and his research; Krennic between his desire for status and honesty; Has Obitt between smuggling and selfishness, and rebellion and selflessness.

Catalyst is an absorbing novel that manages to consider both the intergalactic universe of Star Wars as well as the individual, all rendered against the background of the imposing Death Star. Whatever type of Star Wars fan you may be, Catalyst is a great read.

Review copy
Published by Century

Author of the action packed Into The Guns William C Dietz, has kindly written a guest blog explaining how his latest novel came to be.

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William C. Dietz
October 24, 2016

Birth Of A New Series

Where do my stories come from? In my case a new series is usually inspired by something I observe in the world around me. And the America Rising series was no different. While reading an article I noticed that all of America’s strategic petroleum reserves were located in the south. That was sufficient to remind me of the American civil war, and the fact that the south not only continues to be a bastion of conservative thought, but home to many libertarians. And according to the Libertarian Party Platform, “…we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.”

The first part of that sentence sounds okay, to me at least, but the last five words are troubling. They could be interpreted to mean that individuals are in no way responsible for helping others if they don’t want to especially via the mechanism of government. To my mind that suggests a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” attitude toward society in which every man and woman’s first obligation is to take care of themselves, and to hell with the elderly, the sick and the poor.

What if something terrible happened? I wondered. What if a swarm of meteors devastated much of the Earth’s surface, and threw so much particulate matter up into the air, that the amount of sunlight reaching the planet’s surface was severely reduced? Crops would fail, people would starve, and a great deal of civil unrest would result.

Libertarians have never been able to compete effectively with the two major parties in the United States, but if society fell apart perhaps they could I decided, especially in the south. And that, as I mentioned earlier, is where all of the country’s petroleum reserves are located. Things came together in my mind, and boom! I was off and running. Into The Guns is the first novel in the America Rising trilogy.

Having created a dystopian scenario the next step was to populate it with characters both good and bad. Samuel T. Sloan is the Secretary of Energy when the meteors strike—and is on an official trip to Mexico. Due to the chaos it takes weeks for Sloan to make it back to the U.S. where forces working for the libertarian oligarchs intercept Sloan and lock him up.

Meanwhile army lieutenant Robin Macintyre is escorting a column of civilian refugees across a mountain pass, when a secondary disaster cuts her unit off from the military chain of command, and forces “Mac” to fend for herself.

Eventually both characters will play important roles in the fight to reestablish the America that was—and will meet during a desperate battle deep inside of enemy territory.
Into The Guns is available online and in bookstores now.

For more about me and my fiction please visit williamcdietz.com. You can find me on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/williamcdietz and you can follow me on Twitter: William C. Dietz @wcdietz

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I’ve just noticed that the last few books I’ve reviewed have all been in the post-apocalypse genre. Each and every one has been vastly different explorations of how humanity deals with disaster and Into The Guns is another, distinct take on the theme. The beginning stanza in a new series, titled America Rising, William C Dietz has produced an action packed, barnburner of a novel.

Into The Guns doesn’t dally. A mass meteor strike sets off a series a catastrophes, from tsunamis and earthquakes to missle attacks from China. America is in disarray and within weeks armed gangs and drug lords are creating fiefdoms. The government is shattered and its armed forces left without a chain of command. Everyone is fighting for themselves.

Including each of the characters in this ensemble cast. Sam T Sloan, Secretary of Energy, was in Mexico when the meteors struck and in the middle of escaping a kidnap attempt. Alone and far from home soil, Sloan quickly proves how resourceful and resilient he is, appropriating a canoe before undertaking a 300 mile journey. Yet just as he reaches the USA, he is captured though by different people with a totally different purpose.

Meanwhile, First Lieutenant Robin ‘Mac’ Macintyre is tasked with leading a group of refugees out of the disaster zone. However, though she and her squad survive a landslide, her caravan of citizens are buried under a mass of rock. Cut off from her base and with no commanding officer, Mac sets about making sure her team survive.

In the intervening weeks, post- catalyst America becomes divided. Mac and her team become mercenaries whilst Sloan makes good on a daring escape. Civil war looms large as a group of enterprising entrepreneurs in the South form a new government based on pure capitalism.

As this is the set up in a trilogy, a number of pieces are put in place; namely Sloan’s promotion to President and the plot line conflict between Mac and her sister (an Army Major) and father (a General). Both have sided with the South in this new Civil War against Slone and the North. This is a blockbuster, big budget novel and the action is relentless – a President fighting on the front lines, a country torn apart and divided and a family at war, echoing the greater battle.

into The Guns is hard military sci-fi in a post-catalyst American wasteland at its explosive best. Here’s looking forward to the next in the series.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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Recently, I was afforded the time to watch a trifecta of epic sci-fi films. First up, Terminator Genisys.

As a big fan of the franchise, I really wanted to like Terminator Genisys and, in the main, I did. I was excited about a new chapter in the cannon and with Arnie back on board, I had high hopes. Personally, I thought the opening scenes paying homage to the original was brilliant and the T-800 versus T-800 was a great way to show the new direction this film was about to take. A new timeline and a different past/future was a good move to make.

Again, in the main part, this worked well. Changing Skynet and Cyberdyne Systems away from physical robotics to the virtual software programs and media networks we so rely on nowadays was a smart idea. Equally, pitching John Connor as the antagonist was another clever shift in the paradigm; he remains a saviour but this time for Skynet, not humanity.

Whilst Terminator 2, 3 and to an extent Salvation followed a timeline, this reboot had some serious potential. The opening homage, the continuity of elements and details such as the scars on John Connor’s face, all recognised the previous chapters whilst stating that this was a definite new beginning for the franchise.

But. Firstly, Genisys was kind of ‘lite’; a diet version of the gritty, cyborg-machine apocalypse of the original. Though Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney were both solid, neither was gnarly enough for the roles. Clarke didn’t seem to have that unhinged factor that Linda Hamilton brought to the second film; she wasn’t meant to be a terrified waitress but neither was she a prepped warrior. Likewise, Courtney was almost too soft and bewildered compared to the sinewy, hard-as-nails Kyle Reese from the first Terminator; he just didn’t seem to have the readiness nor adaptability of someone forged in the ruins of humanity.

Lastly, the ending. Equally ‘lite’ and definitely confusing. Time travel usually is but to have Kyle met his younger self to tell himself to remember to do a something he’s clearly already done (else his younger self wouldn’t be with his parents and Judgement Day would have occurred) is a weird paradox and, seemingly pointless. I expect there were a few elements left unanswered, such as Arnie’s character, that were waiting for the next film. Whether that happens or not, or the rights get sold again, I hope the central concept behind Terminator remains as it important as it is just like a futuristic CPU picked out of the wreckage of a destroyed factory.

Terminator Genisys was a good effort. I know I’ll definitely watch it again because, like I said, I’m a big fan and there’s nothing better than a marathon viewing of your favourite franchise.

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Author Yoon Ha Lee was kind enough to answer some quick questions about her book Ninefox Gambit, some of the ideas behind her story and what we can expect next.

Could you give a brief introduction to who you are and to your novel Ninefox Gambit?

I’m a Korean-American writer living in Louisiana with my family and a very lazy cat. I got my B.A. in mathematics from Cornell University, although I’m not always sure my math professors would approve of what I’m doing with my degree!

Ninefox Gambit is about a disgraced captain, Kel Cheris, who teams up with an undead general, Shuos Jedao, to retake a fallen star fortress.
The good news: Jedao is a brilliant tactician and he may be the only one who can help her. The bad news: he’s also a mass murderer, and Cheris has to keep him from going rogue–if he doesn’t kill her first.

I found the symbols used in the book to be unique – could you explain a little on the inspiration for the ideas of moths (as space ships) and the signifiers of fox, raven and others?

I came up with the voidmoths because I wanted the spaceships to be biotech. Although the heroine doesn’t realize this, they’re actually enslaved cyborged spacefaring aliens. I went with “moth” because they’re creatures that can fly and it was a nice, succinct, one-syllable word. (Contrast, for instance, having space flamingos. Too many syllables! Also, very pink.)

The idea of a ‘calendrical’ technology was equally intriguing – can you expand on the ideas of math in the story?

The origins of the idea came from a couple places. First, I read a book by Marcia Ascher on ethnomathematics called Mathematics Elsewhere. It talked about different cultures’ calendar systems. For example, the Trobriand Islanders rely on the biological clock of marine annelids to set their calendar. I thought a lot about how the simplest act of scheduling relies on a mutually understood timekeeping system and cultural norms about being on time (or not).

Calendrical warfare came partly from the notion that dates come to hold particular significance in a given culture. I didn’t read Peter Watson’s War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology until after I’d written Ninefox Gambit, but it shows that the idea of exploiting other cultures’ special celebration dates in warfare for extra psychological effect is not a new idea.

Finally, I got the idea that different calendars induce different magical systems from vector calculus in college. It’s been a long time, but I was fascinated by gradients and vector fields, so I had this idea that at each point in space-time, you would have an associated set of laws of magic based on what calendar was dominant at that point.

The social landscape within the hexarchate is an interesting mix – what inspired the blend of ‘houses’ and hierarchical autocracy?

The hexarchate was always going to be a horrible police state because I wanted my characters to have something to rebel against. The houses, or factions, were inspired primarily by Alderac Entertainment Group’s Legend of the Five Rings (L5R), a roleplaying game and collectible card game (soon to be relaunched as a Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games) that I played for years.

L5R takes place in a fantasy samurai setting with zombies and dragons, and it has clans with different specialties, from the Crane, who dominate the courts with their artisans and duelists, to the Lion, who are honorable warriors with a strong connection to their ancestors. I loved the way that the clans gave people an immediate way to connect to the setting. Admittedly, I’m not sure anyone is going to identify with the hexarchate’s factions, because they’re pretty evil!

There’s a lot of political intrigue within Ninefox Gambit but also suggestions of a much larger universe – will we see more outside of the hexarchate?

Not much, unfortunately. We only really see glimpses of the world outside the hexarchate, mainly because there was so much plot already I ran out of space to do more than hint at anything else.

The ‘servitors’ also seem to be more than they appear – if it’s not a spoiler – will their importance become clearer in the next books?

Yes! They have important roles in the next two books, even if most of the characters don’t realize what’s going on.

Lastly, when is the next book available and where else can we find your work?

According to Rebellion’s website, the next book, Raven Stratagem, is due out in June 2017.