HarperVoyager, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by R A Bardy (@mangozoid)
This is the second part in Ian Douglas’ highly praised Star Carrier series of military SF stories and follows on directly from events in the first book, apparently (called Earth Strike) — I say apparently because I haven’t as yet read the first one, but I genuinely don’t think it’s necessary to read that one in order to appreciate this.
Admittedly, I struggled to get into it initially, especially as there does seem to be a lot of reference to what has gone before, but once I crossed that hurdle I warmed to the book quite quickly, and some of the space battle scenes are truly worthy of anything you might have come across in Battlestar Galactica, for example.
With regards to what has gone before, there is the not-so minor fact that one of the key characters has already saved planet Earth once already, in the first book: enter stage left one Admiral Alexander Kroenig, a military man through and through who has no time for politics and the games that politicians play back on Earth. His skills are called on once again herein, but only after he shuns the idea of being used as a puppet-like ‘figurehead’ to represent all that’s best in the military, etc. and takes the fight to the enemy: the elusive Sh’daar and the relentless number of servant races already ‘enslaved’ by their technology. One of these servant races are the H’rulka: giant gas bags measuring 200+ metres across, and the author does a brilliant job in getting the reader to genuinely feel sorry for something so completely alien.
Glistening with tech-speak and extremely heavy on space combat jargon — and with a varied mix of protagonists — the author makes a fantastic effort to explain a lot of really quite complicated stuff throughout, and there are parts that I found hideously difficult to understand, especially when he starts explaining the pseudo-science behind various concepts of FTL travel, etc. That said, once I got past the halfway mark, I really couldn’t care less about the science and instead allowed the story to wash over me while I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.
And what a ride it is… the space battles are absolutely massive, with huge carriers and multitudes of smaller craft all going at it tooth and nail, and all described with such lucidity and clarity of vision that several times the author pulls you back from the brink, updating and explaining in painstaking detail everything as and when it happens. It’s very impressive, and extremely thorough, and my hats off to the author for doing such a brilliant job in keeping the action going while at the same time immersing the reader fully into the proceedings…
In summary, I can’t pretend I’ll rush out to buy the next one (called Singularity I think — a reference to how some of the ships’ drives work?), but I found it interesting enough to keep me on edge, and wouldn’t say no to looking at other books in the series as and when the opportunity arises. Well worth a look, but especially so if you’ve an interest in military SF and vast galaxy-spanning space battles.