I do love me a good science fiction series… or even a not-so-good one as long as it knows how to keep my attentions… as I have written in the past.
I tend to try them out in audio book form as they are especially good for passing the time in the car during the commute to and from work. Because of my ancient, grandfathered, pre-Amazon acquisition Audible.com subscription, I get two audiobook titles a month as part of a “use it or lose it” plan. Sometimes I have my purchases planned out months in advance, sometimes I just grab something that looks shiny.
Over the summer I decided to try out a few new series from authors I did not know. So I picked out the starter book from three different science fiction series that were available.
Steel World by B.V. Larson (2013)
Summary: Earth is small part of a giant galactic empire. The empire expects planets to provide something and grants each one a franchise on what they do best, and woe be to those who don’t have something worthwhile or who impinge on the franchise of another planet.
Earth, being backward and savage, provides mercenaries for use in conflicts within the empire, which the empire allows because… I don’t know, maybe they think it keeps people busy. These mercenaries, which are organized as Roman legions… because… Romans are cool I guess… make Earth a respectable part of the empire and earns Earth credits so they can buy fancy space technology.
One of the technologies Earth buys lets them backup and restore dead mercenaries, within certain parameters. (Very EVE Online) You have to be confirmed dead before you are restored, which becomes a plot point the way transporter malfunctions do in Star Trek.
Anyway, this means that Earth’s legions have an practically endless supply of soldiers. Meanwhile, Earth is overcrowded and if something bad happens and you lose your job, you are in bad shape.
Such is the case of James McGill, who due to family issues loses his ability to pay for college. He was a huge gamer, so he sells his elaborate console and goes off to join one of Earth’s legions, something akin to somebody today selling their XBox One and running off to join the army because they were really good at Call of Duty. Hilarity ensues.
Highs: The tech, the galactic situation, and the way the legions operate were enough to keep me engaged throughout the story.
Lows: Owes a lot to 50’s Heinlein, very “Johnnie Rico” at times. Too cute by half McGill escapes from impossible situations. Plot complications telegraphed well in advance. Galactic situation, and the situation on Earth not very well fleshed out. Only available on Kindle or through Audible.
Follow on Books: Dust World, Tech World.
Into the Black by Evan Currie (2012)
Summary: In the not-so-distant future, after a conflict that divided the world into two armed camps and pushed the US and Canada to form the North American Confederation, various technological breakthroughs have put mankind into space. We follow Captain Eric Weston, former commander of the elite Archagels squadron and now captain of the newly launched NACS Odyssey as he takes Earth’s first faster than light capable ship on its shakedown cruise to likely nearby stars.
And, at their very first stop at another star, they detect tachyon emission that leads them to the site of a space battle where they rescue and alien from a life support pod. From there, difficult questions ensue and the Odyssey ends up involved in the war, taking sides without really checking back to see if this is okay with Earth.
Highs: The tech is not the easy standards of the genre. Book attempts to, if not fully explain, at least explain well the parameters of the tech. That is some FTL drive! Asymmetrical tech ideas work.
Lows: Owes a bit to David Webber. Considering how much time is spent on how cool and elite the Archangels are, they really do not add that much to the whole story. The early plot depends on a lot of really low probability events. Would we just let our first FTL capable ship just go swanning about where the solar winds blow like this? Boy, them friendly aliens sure put all their eggs in one basket. Another “lost tribe” story. Tachyon emissions.
Follow on Books: The Heart of the Matter, Homeworld, Out of the Black
Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos (2014)
Summary: In the not-so-distant future the world is divided into two armed camps with the US and Canada forming the North American Commonwealth, and various technological breakthroughs have put mankind into space. Hrmm… that sounds familiar.
Earth is a mess, over populated, with the greater underclass confined to crowded, walled off cities. If you don’t have a job, or lose yours, well you are stuck subsisting off of government handouts in a dirty, crime plagued corner of what passes for life for most people. This too, sounds familiar.
The only way out is to win a lottery to a life on a colony world or join the military. The story’s protagonist, Andrew Grayson, opts for the latter. Insert somewhat standard boot camp scenario. He has dreams of getting into space, but when he makes it through training but ends up in the Territorial Army, whose job it is to keep the peace here on Earth rather than head to space or garrison colony worlds. He ends up back in cities again, this time fighting the masses of which he was once a part.
Still, where there is a will, there is a way, and Andrew really wants to get into space. Meanwhile, aliens are on the move.
Highs: Well paced, author knows when to skip the story ahead without feeling like you’ve missed something. Doesn’t dwell on the tech beyond what is necessary for the plot. Really alien aliens.
Lows: Owes something to Heinlein, Haldeman, Harrison, and probably John Ringo as well, and it is hard not to draw the comparisons as you read. Why is our future always a dystopian, over crowded, welfare state? Detroit cannot catch a break.
Follow on Books: Lines of Departure, Angles of Attack (Due April 21, 2015)
What to Pick?
None of these titles were bad. I listened to all three to the very end, even putting the headphones on at home to continue listening to the stories outside of commute time. Mentioning that a given story owes something to a past author’s work means that the desire to compare the two became a distraction, but that may be just a product of my own mind and having read far too much science fiction over the years. Do not read too much into that.
l listed the titles in the order in which I listened to them, so Terms of Enlistment gets a couple of unfair “sounds familiar” mentions in its summery because it was the third in the queue.
But when I got to the end of the three books, I immediately went back to Audible.com and put Lines of Departure on my wish list. I’ve already finished that, too, and am now impatient for Angles of Attack.
That said, at least it gives me time to pick up The Heart of the Matter. While Into the Black didn’t thrill me as much as Terms of Enlistment, it still sunk a hook in me and I want to find out what happens next. Maybe the Archangels will live up to their hype.
Which leaves me with Steel World. As I said, it wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t leave me looking for a sequel either. On the other hand, if you look at B.V. Larson’s Wikipedia page (the only one of the three authors apparently notable enough to have one), he has a whole slew of other titles, so there are some avenues worth exploring.
Anybody else on board with these authors?