Old Man’s War – John Scalzi

I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.
Visiting Kathy’s grave was the less dramatic of the two.

In a distant future, humanity developed, colonized different worlds and fights wars. The protagonist joins the Colonial Defense at 75 years old and finds that his conscience is transplanted in a new, young, augmented body. With that, he regains practically a second life, but the war he is about to embark and the Colonial Defense are a lot more sinister and mysterious than he thought.

Would you join army if you are given your youth again?

This book is a classical military sci, with an engaging premise and a good follow up. The ending is a bit open, more scifi than military. Overall, the book tilts towards a mystery scifi rather a military story.

Most of the book follows the transformations, physical and psychological, of the hero, John Perry, after the body transplant. After the training camp, the protagonist fight various aliens, gradually climbing ranks.

It was a good book, but not exceptional. Nonetheless, entertaining enough to finish it, but no continue with the series.


Courageous (The Lost Fleet, Book 3) – Jack Campbell

Deplorable practices adopted during the last century were repeatedly declared necessary if regrettable in order to win the war. Oddly enough, we’ve yet to win. You’d think somebody would have asked before this why the regrettable but necessary measures haven’t actually produced the promised results.

The star saga continue with the third book in the series, where Captain Jack Geary continues to lead the Alliance fleet in enemy space, trying to avoid the Syndics and get enough supplies to be able to combat.

Geary is avoiding enemy fleets, even if that means getting away of the Alliance-controlled space. However, that can’t last forever and  Geary has to fight some bloody battles. Those battles have real and impacting causalities, which makes the story credible.

Trying to outsmart the enemy, when an unexpected twist appears.

The protagonist is not a super-hero, with genious flair and incredible luck, but a leader with doubts, trying to make choices with the best information available.

The relations with Madam Co-President Victoria Rione and Captain Tanya Desjani of his flagship are subject to other people judgement, good or bad. But this does not distract from the main story, which is again full of space battles and military space tactics.

In this part, a new twist is added to the story, which makes it even more interesting, building on cues from the previous books.

This is a good book on its own, a relaxing and engaging read that I recommend for the fans of the genre.

Fearless (The Lost Fleet, Book 2) – Jack Campbell

The longstanding thorn in your side Captain Numos is stupid. In fact, Numos is so dense that I’m surprised he doesn’t have his own event horizon.

The second book of the series continued the adventures of Captain Jack “Black Jack” Geary in his quest to save the Alliance fleet from the enemy in Syndic space.  This time around, Captain Geary has to deal with unexpected mutiny as well, having to fight internal and external enemies at once.

Military scifi book, for the fans of the genre.

The protagonist is now better defined, Captain Geary having to work on the politics of his own fleet, as well as dealing with the continuing enemy pursuit. The story universe is given more depth and there is even more action than in the first book. However, the book manages to keep the main story straight and introduces some very unexpected twists, on several levels.

The second book is at least as better as the first one, with a bit more creative narrative and better described space battles. The effort put in imagining scientifically coherent space battles is impressive.

There is little psychological monologue and soul-searching, which makes the book uncomplicated and easy to read. For military scifi fans, it is a quite rewarding read.

Koban – Stephen W. Bennett

His octet was to be limited to the same weapons these humans were given. A very detailed video of the compound’s terrain was furnished. This he shared with his octet, because every Krall had an inborn ability to memorize such details for a mission. Repetition was unnecessary.

Koban is a very imaginative and action-packed military survival sci-fi. The story revolves around Captain Mirikami, who is transporting in a passenger spaceship scientists to a far colony, when he is attacked by an unknown and far more advanced alien species. Captain Mirikami and all on board is then isolated on a dangerous planet, Koban, where he has to prove to alien war race that humanity deserve to be treated as worthy opponents.

The author creates an entire universe with this book, with a new planet and a new alien species. The Krall are very advanced military, highly physical, destroyed or enslaving every other intelligent species they met so far. They use those wars to enhance their military abilities. Humans are considered weak and very low technologically speaking, but they are still put to trial. If they succeed, aliens plan to destroy humans gradually, rather then in a one big stroke, hence the struggle of Captain Mirikami.

Scifi survival story

Stephen Bennett creates a future where genetic warfare  almost killed the entire male population and changed ways of society. The men are subservient to women and the first part of the book is full with sexist situations. After the genetic war. humanity is not fighting internally nor meeting any other intelligent species in 300 years.

The narrative is captivating, some chapters are looking at events through the eyes of predators on Koban, some others through the Krall aliens. It makes the story a lot more interesting.The book has some fantastic ideas, but with others it went overboard. The sexism is interesting, but not adding to the story. The genetic enhancement done in days leave too many logical holes.

Nonetheless, it is a solid scifi survival book, imaginative, well paced, action-packed and entertaining.

Dauntless (The Lost Fleet, Book 1) by Jack Campbell

Man of war (series) – H. Paul Honsinger

New contact!” Lieutenant Kasparov announced from the Sensors Station.  “Infrared and mass detection, bearing three-five-seven mark zero-six-eight.  Designating as Hotel eleven.  Classified as definite hostile.  No effort at stealth.”  Then, under his breath, he added, “Arrogant bastards.”

“Very well.”  Lieutenant Commander Max Robichaux, Union Space Navy, Captain of the Khyber class destroyer USS Cumberland, acknowledged the contact report but let the comment pass, not because it was appropriate–which it was not–but because he heartily concurred.  Judging by the quiet murmurs of agreement from the dozens of men at their General Quarters stations in the Cumberland’s Combat Information Center, he wasn’t the only one.

The destroyer’s Executive Officer, Lieutenant Eduardo DeCosta, leaned toward Max and said in a low voice, “No stealth.  Looks like disdain.  We’re not a threat to them, so they don’t need to waste effort making themselves hard to detect.”

Max shook his head and answered at the same volume—his voice would not carry beyond the Command Island, the platform in the center of CIC where the Commander’s and Executive Officer’s Stations, as well as an additional console known as the Commodore’s Station, were located.  “That’s not it, XO.  Krag disdain for us ‘blaspheming monkeys’ is a given.  Their goal is intimidation.  They want to make sure we know they’re here and how many of them are hunting us.  They want us cowed.  Too scared to think.  Believing we’re already dead so we’ll stop fighting to survive.” [Book 3 – Brothers in Valour]

The series follows the adventures of Max Robichaux, captain of a war spaceship engaged in the war with an alien empire, some 300 years in the future.

There are three books in the series: To Honor You Call Us, For Honor We Stand and Brothers in Valour. Interestingly, the first two were self-published (this means there was no publishing house behind them) and enjoyed an immense success.

The series are classical in the sense of story building. Captain Robichaux gradually earns his success and military victories, while training and giving confidence to his destroyer’s crew. On his side, there is his best friend, Dr Sahin, and a reliable council of advisers. The victories follow one after the other, but not without losses. The focus is on the hero and his crew, less on the ship itself.

A nice, relaxed reading.

There are writers who like to introduce convoluted psychological plots and mind games. However, the author, Paul Honsinger, likes his story clean; the focus is on the fight itself, on the universe around it and on the crew. This makes the story easy to follow and engaging.

There is no hard scifi in those books, but the plot is imaginative, with nice twists. Also, every decision from the universe (such as why no women on board) is given a credible explanation (a genophage virus  sent by aliens to kill human females, due to the low reproductive rate of human species in comparison with aliens).

The battles are very creative and well described. The evolution of the hero and the crew is impressive. The captain is just an ordinary guy (not a prince or the son of a general), with a lot more grit, common sense and willingness to win that others. This type of character makes the reader to identify him/herself with the hero and follow his decisions.

I loved the series, it was easy to read. It was not a big,  convoluted plot where you have to make notes in order to remember what is happening. One of the most relaxing reads of military scifi.

Center of Gravity (Star Carrier, Book 2) – Ian Douglas

In the evolution of every sentient race, there is a turning point when the species achieves transcendence through technology. The warlike Sh’daar are determined that this monumental milestone will never be achieved by the creatures known as human. On the far side of known human space, the Marines are under siege, battling the relentless servant races of the Sh’daar aggressor. With a task force stripped to the bone and the Terran Confederation of States racked by dissent, rogue Admiral Alexander Koenig must make the momentous decision that will seal his fate and the fate of humankind. A strong defensive posture is futile, so Koenig will seize the initiative and turn the gargantuan Star Carrier “America” toward the unknown. For the element of surprise is the only hope of stalling the Sh’daar assault on Earth’s solar system-and the war for humankind’s survival must be taken directly to the enemy.

Center of Gravity is the second book of Ian Douglas in the Star Carrier series. The story revolves around the struggle of humanity to battle technologically superior races of allies, in distant future. The main protagonists are Commander Koenig, admiral of a human fleet, and Trevor Grey, pilot on one of the ships from Koenig’s command group.
Battles around the stars

Koenig allows the reader to see things at the strategic level, why the fleet retreats or attacks and the overall plan. Grey’s narrative level is more emotional and tactical, about simple people and how the war affects them.

The main ship of Koenig’s command group is kind of a spaceship carrier, where Grey’s spaceship is allotted to, hence the name of the series,  Star Carrier.
Humans battle an alien species called Sh’daar which fight through various other alien species under their control. In the first book, the aliens attacked Earth and humans barely succeeded to repulse the attack, through the efforts of Grey and Koenig.
In the second book, humans strike back, The pace is fast and the star battles and the ship to ship action are dynamic and engaging. While not as innovative in new technologies and ideas as the first book, the story still reads well. Overall, it is a good piece of military scifi.
Link to Book 1 review.

Heir to the Empire (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, Book 1) – Timothy Zahn

On his status board, a section of the Chimaera’s shield schematic went red. “Get that starboard shield back up,” he ordered, giving the sky in that direction a quick scan. There were half a dozen warships out there, all of them firing like mad, with a battle station in backstop position behind them.
If their sensors showed that the Chimaera’s starboard shields were starting to go—
“Starboard turbolasers: focus all fire on the Assault Frigate at thirty-two mark forty,” Thrawn spoke up calmly. “Concentrate on the starboard side of the ship only.”

The book is part of the Star Wars expanded universe and takes place after the Emperor and Darth Vader are defeated. Five years have passed since the Alliance destroyed the Death Star and killed the Emperor and Darth Vader. Han Solo and Leia Organa are now married with twins coming and Luke Skywalker is starting the new Jedi Order.

Under those premises, the author, Timothy Zahn, creates a new antagonist, Grand Admiral Thrawn, a military genious and great psychologist, leader of the reminding of the Empire’s fleet.

What is impressive of the plot and the narrative is that Zahn doesn’t rely on old cliches, but creates new personages. The plot is logical and tight, without the fantastic and illogical actions happening in the films. The new personages are solid, deep, credible and the reader is interested in their fate and actions. Their reasoning is sound and you, as a reader, would consider the same actions given their circumstances. There is little hocus-pocus, due to the Force. Logic and work are more important.

Admiral Thrawn, a brilliant mind, but on the wrong side.

Timothy Zahn credibly starts the plot. If you are an Admiral, in command of several fleets and planets, why would you surrender over some rebels in shambles, badly organised and with little resources?

The reader then follows the events and actions happening in the universe, which revolve around the plans of Admiral Thrawn to increase his power and weaken the Alliance. The Admiral has no other power than his mind and his keen understanding of things. As he notices as some point: ” When you understand a species’ art, you understand that species. ” Several other gems of wisdom are voiced by him.

However, Thrawn is not the only memorable character. Mara Jade, the strong and complex character with a secret past; Talon Karrde, the smuggler; Joruus C’baoth, the Dark Jedi clone; the Noghri, the skilled, but honorable assassins and others, they are all unforgettable.

The story sticks for serious readers because it involves no magic; it is all a battle of the minds, with the Force, the battleships, the armies, just tools to achieve an objective, not game-changers. The real change is made by the actions of people. This is the message of the author throughout the book.

A great book for the Star Wars fans.

Glory Main – Henry O’Neil

Both sides possessed weapons that could blow a planet’s atmosphere right off or radiate the place so badly that no one could live there, but the goal of gaining a habitable planet took those weapons off the table. Instead it set the engineers from both sides working on devices that delivered their terrible effect but didn’t permanently alter the ground where they were used.

The tech had become visibly disturbed when he reached the logical conclusion that the limited war calculus would no doubt be dropped the day either side found the enemy’s home planets.

The book is a survival story during the Sim war, a war between humans and similarly-looking aliens. Lieutenant Mortas and three others crash on a desolate planet and fight to survive.

Survival scifi, could have used more imagination.

The four characters are nicely constructed, the infantryman, the scout, the tech and the psychoanalyst, and their struggle is believable and interesting. While less action-packed than other series, the pace of the story is fast enough to keep the reader engaged. The plot is nicely constructed with many twists and turns. The end is fantastic and unexpected. An original military sci fi overall.

The survival story could have been better developed and more imaginative, but it was interesting enough to keep the reader engaged. The narrative is focusing rather on characters then on the surroundings or the events. Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to follow the four in their fight.

A nice read for the fans of the genre.

Armor – John Steakley

Felix took the blaze-rifle, the blazer, from the slot in the long row which had a number to match the one pulsing inside his helmet. He checked it for charge, attached it to his back. Scout suits, much smaller than standard issue, had no blazer capacity built in. Scouts carried rifles used by open-air troops for thirty years. Also, they had fewer blaze-bombs-only nine as opposed to the two dozen the warriors carried. Scouts must be fleet, must be able to realize their much greater potential for speed and agility. And, where warrior suits bore different colors for rank and group, all scouts were black. Flat black. Dull, non-shiny, space black.

The book by John Steakley is a classic military sci-fi, written in 1984. Unlike many other military sci-fis enjoying success, it is a stand alone book, not part of a series. Steakley was working on a second book, when he died in 2010.

Felix is a loner, a hero, a veteran and a broken man.

The story is divided into three parts. In the first part, we find Felix, a scout in the Earth’s military, orbiting Banshee, a hostile planet infested by giants aliens called Ants, very similar in behavior with the Earth’s ones. Against all odds, he survives twenty or so drops on the planet, invasions aimed at eradicating the alien infestation. Felix manages to survive, by allowing a kind of a second personality, the Engine, to take his place during the battle.

The second storyline follows a space pirate called Jack Crow. He strikes a deal with a mutineer captain to infiltrate and subvert a research colony, where he finds Felix’s armour, many years after Felix’s storyline.

The third part, the ending, is moving. It is intensely emotional, when Jack Crow finds the story of Felix,  his loneliness, desperation and hopelessness during the Antwar and his motivations. The closing scenes are heart-wrenching.

The book takes some elements from Starship Troopers, but remains a beautiful narrative, at times melancholic, at times bursting with action. I finished it in the early hours of a morning, but it left me empty and sad. I think a story is good if it touches the reader and this book touched me.