Author: H.P. Caledon

Publisher: Devine Destinies (January 27, 2017)

Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC


Judging from the countless dystopian stories pouring out in literature and on film, it seems obvious that most sci fi writers see humanity’s future in very dark and bleak terms. 

It’s difficult to get much more dark and bleak than to open a novel set in a prison where the guards are rarely visible and the inmates are left to create their own rules. That’s where former soldier and mercenary Mike Marshall is sent. There, he quickly learns he’s going to be somebody’s property.   He’s won in a brutal fight by Keelan who is an assassin under the thumb of the biggest dog of the prison gangs.

Mike indeed learns much the hard way in brutal confrontations with inmates who see him as mere meat in their twisted power games. The only salvation Mike has is to trade inside information about mercenary tactics with Keelan in return for protection from the most ruthless of prisoners. To both their surprises, Mike and Keelan find themselves in an uneasy alliance. 

The second half of the book moves outside the prison where we encounter authorities at war with slavers on a distant planet. At least, it must be distant. We’re not really told much about it. Instead, we get an espionage plot that takes Mike down urban alleys and inside military barracks.

In fact, it’s hard to see how this novel can be classified as science fiction. Yes, the setting is clearly in the future, but nothing is futuristic except for spaceships in the final sections. We hear fleeting mentions of alien species, but we never get any descriptions or see any interactions with them.   Yes, the settings are given as being on different planets, but again we get no descriptions of them or how humanity settled on them. What happens could plausibly happen on earth and not all that far into our future. 

In fact, everything is extremely terrestrial and there’s really no need for the sci fi veneer. The heart of the story is the education of Mike Marshall and how he is forced to adapt to constantly shifting circumstances. That includes what happened in his life before prison, what happens inside, and what happens thereafter. It’s his internal torments, especially his self-disgust for his betrayal of his cell-mate that makes him a psychologically damaged human, covered with scars on his body, heart, and soul.

So it doesn’t really matter where Mike experiences his learning the hard way, but rather watching him move from simple survival to being able to make his own decisions to, well, that would be telling.   

Learning the Hard Way is for readers who like harsh, brutal stories where the main protagonist can’t be considered a hero but instead a man capable of being more than a pawn in the clutches of remorseless criminals from horrible pasts with equally horrible futures in front of them. It’s the sort of sci fi for readers who don’t like most sci fi. Perhaps we’ll learn more about the galaxy they inhabit in the inevitable sequel.