Author: Clifford B. Bowyer

Publisher: Silver Leaf Books

ISBN 978-1-60975-037-4

This book is a mixed bag. Some good plotting and some interesting characters are examples of positives. Failures in writing mechanics are negatives. The pros outweighed the cons enough to keep me plodding along though.With some notable exceptions, the genre is military sci-fi, so readers that like this genre might be more forgiving than I am.

My general feeling was disappointment. I’ve always been a sucker for military sci-fi, that extreme subgenre of space opera, itself a subgenre, ever since I read Heinlein’s Starship Troopers in the summer between the fifth and sixth grades (other authors in this subgenre who can count me as a fan are Joe Haldeman, C. J. Cherryh, Orson Scott Card, and Fred Saberhagen). Heinlein was a minimalist master, with just enough description to trigger the reader’s own imagination. Here the author leaves little to the reader’s imagination. Everything is spelled out in detail, from the creation of a secret training base in Texas for the warriors who will fight the genetically enhanced humanoids, called GENs here (most people would just call them mutants); to the training itself; to the re-organization of the special ops group decimated by its first skirmish with the GENs; and to rosters and weapon stores used in the ops.

This detail is one thing that makes the book ponderous. Verbosity is another. I could do without the whole side story involving the protagonist’s father-in-law, who is still pursuing the dream of turning over his vast corporate empire to his granddaughter. This includes an extensive description of the maiden voyage of the father-in-law’s new cruise ship. Before it ended, I was hoping for another Titanic. The author used it to introduce the hero, Logan Stone, to the GENs, but he didn’t need to use a cruise ship to do that. During my first reading (for my reviews, I always do two—first, as a reader, looking to be entertained, and then as a writer, noting technical issues), I found that I could skip many pages of material, in fact, and not miss a beat. Maybe others will be interested in the detail; I wasn’t, not as a reader or writer.

The detailed plot reminds me of some video games—they don’t leave anything to the imagination either, a fact we might dearly pay for in loss of creativity in future generations. In many ways, this is a futuristic warfare manual about how to fight a superior enemy. The story is about Stone, the ex-military man, who told his mother as a boy that he would someday save the world. (Mine said I was going to be a priest. Lucky for my kids, I ignored that.) General Rinzin Rizal, the villain, an Asian general who usurps power in a bloody revolt (but why does this happen in very Buddhist Bhutan?), is clearly modeled after WWII’s little corporal. He goes a bit too far with his GEN-aided blitzkrieg and forces Stone out of retirement to lead the new and improved version of Gen-Ops. The two clash. End of story. So where’s the sci-fi?

Good question. The best sci-fi occurs in the first section of the Prologue, amounting to only a few pages. An errant meteor storm threatens life on Earth as we know it. Colonel John Collins leads five spaceships into the meteor cloud. He saves the world but, in the process, discovers a huge alien ship. This theme is common in sci-fi. Gregory Benford, in his novel, In the Ocean of Night, tells a similar story to begin his “Galactic Center Series.” Unfortunately, this is one place the present author skips the details—we’re left in the dark about the true nature of Collins’ feat, although later it’s clear that the ship contained ET DNA, and Earth scientists use it to make super soldiers, the GENs.

The GENs are sci-fi creations, of course, but the idea that today we require some extraterrestrial influence like the meteor storm to create mutants is a bit of novelty, for this book an initial deus ex machina. In these days where the U.S. Supreme Court just declared that corporations can’t own genes, human beings are already close to having the capability of producing genetically enhanced super soldiers. Add some smart armor and they’re ready. Coming soon to a new Pentagon black project in D.C.? The associated alien spaceship that the author morphs into the Valhalla section of the secret program only to lose its secrets to the Bhutan general could just as well have been an ordinary top-secret lab in the middle of nowhere.

This then is militaristic sci-fi with emphasis on the militaristic. The author does a good job portraying the ubiquitous conundrum of the military man, that never-ending tug between duty to one’s country and duty to one’s family. There are even a few military women here, even on the front lines. Yet the characters involved are often two-dimensional stereotypes, as are most of the civilians. I knew I was in trouble as a reader when about a third of the way through the book my favorite character became Stone’s mother-in-law. Later on I began liking Stone’s assistant Lisa—she’s often that go-to person who makes things happen, but the author almost ignores her. There are too many characters in fact, arguably out of necessity, but entire groups of them appear like a typical military roll call at five a.m. reveille. It was hard to keep them straight because I couldn’t relate to them.

I’ll only summarize a few flaws in writing mechanics because some readers will write them off as nitpicking. Whether intentional or not, the book has a very simplistic portrayal of geopolitics. The dialog is often stilted and verbose. (I’ve known a lot of military personnel—in real life they don’t talk like they do in this book.) One special sore point: a sneer is a facial expression. “Bla-bla-bla,” he sneered? That doesn’t make sense. Sometimes abrupt changes in POV (point-of-view) occur, especially irksome when the author uses the God’s-eye-POV to write things like “His fate would come not from a phobia of his imagination, but an act of carelessness, which could have uncountable consequences.” There are several homonym errors a spell-checker can’t catch as well.

These flaws could have been avoided by a decent editing, so-called copy editing. Shame on Silver Leaf for not doing at least that. I’ve already mentioned several flaws that might have been avoided via content editing. Another serious one is the denouement. About half way through the book a shadowy group known as Evolution is mentioned. About a hundred pages later, it turns up again. By the end, the take-away for the reader is that this organization has provided the general with his GEN technology. After the final battle scenes are over (the whole book builds up to the two simultaneous ops against the general—did I mention the author is verbose?), the denouement leaves many threads hanging, among them Evolution’s future. In other words, the author is setting things up for his sequel, the next GEN book. I object to this. It’s fine to write a series, but each book in the series should be able to stand alone. The reader shouldn’t be left hanging, or, at least, the author shouldn’t be so obvious about the hanging.

I haven’t read any other books in the write’s extensive opus. This one isn’t a very positive addition, but there was certainly enough to keep your mind busy and sometimes entertained. Caveat emptor.

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