Books: Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier

In Brief:  Myke Cole’s second book in his Shadow Ops series continues the story of a contemporary Earth in which magic has suddenly reappeared, to be wielded by a small, seemingly random number of people.  In the US, the military has consolidated power and influence over these new mages, training them as elite soldiers and sending them into the parallel world called the Source, to establish a base.  Fortress Frontier follows the renegade Oscar Britton and a new character, Colonel Alan Bookbinder, as they deal with the consequences of this base being cut off from Earth.

Pros:  Cole brings the knowledge and sense of realism of military and special forces veteran (which he is).  His writing is descriptive and effective, and his sense of the various genres – sci-fi, fantasy, military thrillers, comic books – meld together well.  Col. Bookbinder as a lead character will grow on you.

Cons:  The initial decision to move away from Oscar (lead character in the first book) was a little frustrating, and the first few chapters with Bookbinder could have moved quicker.

Review:  The second book in the Shadow Ops series, Fortress Frontier, picks up in the immediate aftermath of Control Point (reviewed here) and actually moves back in time slightly to introduce Colonel Alan Bookbinder.  Bookbinder is a career officer and logistics expert in the Pentagon.  He’s no ground-pounder, as we quickly realize, but one of those competent professionals who keep the tanks fueled, the laptops charged, and the ammo tallied.  But Bookbinder’s life changes rapidly when he comes up latent as a potential magic-user.

Cole weaves in the background and sets up the magic system established previously, with less than 1% of humanity (in a very X-Men mutant-like scenario) discovering they can manipulate other-worldly forces:  magic.  These abilities are organized along basic schools, like elemental (fire, water, earth, air), animal control, shape-shifting, and *other.  Bookbinder doesn’t seem to have a school; he only exhibits an ability to tap and channel magical energy, but because of this the military quickly reads him into its Top Secret magical program and sets him up for training.

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Books: The Mirrored Heavens

In Brief:  David J. Williams’ first novel in the Autumn Rain trilogy sets a foundation of cyberpunk sensibilities and military sci-fi in 2110.  It’s fast, intense, and sometimes murky.

Pros:  The Mirrored Heavens features a meticulously well-conceived scenario of future political hegemony and military capabilities.  Williams can set a pace and turn a phrase that would make William Gibson or Neal Stephenson proud.  And for anyone who ever wondered what combat would entail if Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit became go-to battlefield weaponry – this is your book.

Cons:  The white-knuckle pace leaves little time for characterization.  Three pairs of characters share the p.o.v. narrative duties, and you may find them blurring together.  Because of the similarities and closeness of these characters, we don’t get to see the political situation unfolding, which detracts somewhat from the sense of espionage-type intrigue.

Review:  The Mirrored Heavens begins with a detailed timeline of the history of the Second Cold War between the U.S. of North America and the Eurasian Coalition.  Reading like the summary of a decent undergrad textbook, the timeline plots out key points in the rise of these two superpowers – their conflicts in Africa and South America, their treaties to avoid all-out warfare, and finally, their agreement over building a structure known as the Phoenix Space Elevator.  This elevator allows materials and goods to move beyond the atmosphere and has fostered a new era of lunar settlement and solar system exploration. Continue reading

Books: Control Point

In Brief:  Myke Cole’s first novel in his Shadow Ops series introduces a world where people suddenly begin manifesting magical talents.  When Lieutenant Oscar Britton show his wizard’s chops, he soon learns how far the U.S. Government and Military will go to control this new power.

Pros: Excellent and well-conceived scenario building and magic extrapolation blended with the military sci-fi tradition.  The author’s military research and experience and familiarity with other similarly-themed stories provide weight, as does the solid characterization.

Cons:  Oscar Britton is a sympathetic likable dude, but he spends too long waffling and deciding on an eventual course of action.  Not coincidentally, the plot does stall somewhat in the middle of the book.  Also – and this is directed at the publisher, Ace – my paperback copy came unglued and fell apart completely in less than two weeks.

Review:    The excellent Sci-Fi Signal Podcast pointed me to Control Point, listening to Myke Cole on a panel discussion about the state of Military Sci-Fi.  A small plug for his own work and appreciation by other panel members was enough for me to seek out this book.  The cover, with its “Blackhawk Down Meets the X-Men’ blurb sealed the deal.

Cole is an Iraq War veteran and an old-school comic book and Dungeons & Dragons fan.  This is my guy.  Reading Control Point gave me the sense of an author who grew up with the X-Men, read Ender’s Game, Armor, maybe some Starship Troopers.  Throw in Guardians of the Flame and the old magic-cyberpunk mashup RPG,Shadowrun for good measure.  The author is definitely familiar with the conventions and pitfalls of this particular corner of the speculative fiction world, and I appreciated that from the outset.

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