For those of you unfamiliar with this series, I’m going through the various bookcases in my flat, micro-reviewing the contents. Partly as an excuse to revisit books that I’ve read a hundred times before, partly to justify why I’m keeping them as well. Hopefully, this will inspire some of you to do the same. Links to previous instalments are at the end of this article.
In part one, we covered We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan, and Armageddon’s Children, The Gypsy Morph, Running With The Demon, Knight Of The Word and Angel Fire East by Terry Brooks. Part two saw us tackle The Death Of Grass by John Christopher, Off On A Comet/Splinter by Jules Verne/Adam Roberts, Un Lun Dun by China Miéville , Star Wars: Allegiance by Timothy Zahn, and River Of Gods, Cyberabad Days and Brasyl by Ian McDonald. In part three, we covered The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein, The Collected Stories Of Vernor Vinge by Vernor Vinge, Stealing Light by Gary Gibson, The Forest Of Hands And Teeth by Carrie Ryan, the Star Trek Corps Of Engineers: Creative Couplings anthology, Second World by Eddy Shah, and Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein.
Vinge impresses with another standalone release, this time focusing on Robert Gu, a famous poet who recovers from Alzheimer’s due to advances in modern technology. Suffering from future shock, other plot threads involve global conspiracies and virtual reality. Vinge’s prose is, as always, a pleasure to read, with technological themes deftly interwoven with the personal and spiritual. Problems lie in the unsympathetic characters, but given the intentional bent of this, it can be overlooked. Very impressive.
Eric Brown is a favourite author of mine, chiefly for his triumphant efforts with Kethani, but also for his Bengal Station trilogy. Jeff Vaughn is the protagonist here, in a book that gives a rich vision of a future earth, mixed in with a little hardboiled detective narrative and noir for good measure. It’s Ian McDonald-lite in places, and purposefully conforms to convention in others, but it’s a great lazy day read.
My favourite of the trilogy, Xenopath sees Vaughn return to investigate another case, this time involving the wholesale slaughter of aliens on the colony planet of Mallory. Brown seems far more comfortable in Vaughn’s skin this time around, leading to an intriguing novel that’s still plagued by pulp reliance, but nevertheless remains exciting throughout.
The final entry in the series sees Vaughn dispatched to discover the fate of a lost crew, but he soon finds himself embroiled in something far bigger, and closely related to his patron. It’s a bit disappointing to not see the narrative evolve into something a little different to the previous entries other than in setting, but as always, the Bengal Station trilogy provides ample entertainment.
I absolutely adore this series of pulp science fiction novels, equal parts The Forever War and Starship Troopers, but wonderfully indulgent to the finest parts of true fictional science fiction. John Perry approaches mortality, but takes the offer of a new body and new life in the Colonial Defence Forces, finding himself thrust into a conflict he doesn’t understand, and can’t hope to survive.
The second novel in the series focuses on Jane Sagan, the Special Forces operative introduced in Old Man’s War whose make-up incorporates aspects of Perry’s dead wife. Here we see a new Special Forces soldier imprinted with the personality of a dangerous criminal, bred with the specific intent to capture the man he’s based on. The novelty value evident in Old Man’s War has worn off here slightly, giving the book less of a sharp edge, but I can’t help but love it regardless of its flaws.
The final chapter in the story of John Perry and Jane Sagan, now supposedly retired, comes full circle as they’re dispatched to the new colony world of Roanoke and become pawns in a wider galactic political battle. Echoes of the Ender Saga reverberate through this story, but Scalzi balances this with a plot worth telling, and some decent closure for the characters he left hanging at the end of Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades.
I tried so hard to love this story as much as the others in the series, I really did, but in the end I felt as if I was just re-reading The Last Colony. Which I essentially was, as it’s the same events told from the perspective of John Perry and Jane Sagan’s adopted daughter, Zoe. Scalzi captures the personality of a teenage girl too headstrong for her own good, yet unsure of her place in life well, and fills in some of the narrative gaps, but altogether I’d have preferred a continuation of the story rather than a retread.
Read the other entries in this series: