Friday, September 10, 2010

Oh No! Mean aliens are coming!

I’m not a military science fiction fan.  Actually, I’m not a military fiction fan of any sort.  That being said, John Ringo is one of my favorite sf authors.  Like most of his books, A Hymn Before Battle is full of military jargon and tactics and such that take me a good while to get used to, but the story itself is what keeps me hooked.

Earth’s first contact with alien species starts off rocky.  There’s a race of aliens called the Posleen who are bent on interstellar conquest and destruction.  And then there’s another group of aliens, which are rather incapable of defending themselves.  So they decide to recruit the backward, primitive Humans to do their fighting for them.  I assume that normally the leaders of Earth would tell them to fight their own battles, but unfortunately, Earth is the next in line to get taken over.  Damn.

Enter Mike O’Neal.  A former soldier who is now a web developer and sci-fi buff, he’s called back in by friendly former commanders to help head the tech development teams that will be working with the (relatively) friendly ETs to get the soldiers of Earth ready for interstellar combat within five years.  Rather a tall order, but there’s really not much choice there.

Throughout the book, we flip between fronts, from a recon group, to front-line fighters, to the people left back on Earth.  Since I’m not a military buff, I can’t speak very well on the tactics being used in the field, but it’s the interaction between people that makes the heart of this story shine.  There’s a lot of heart in this book, especially because so many people are being separated, and because war forges very tight bonds between people.  You care about the people in this book very quickly, and that makes each loss all the more heartbreaking.

Like most of Ringo’s books, even during the slower sections, there’s something to keep me engaged.  Of course there has to be a lot of dialog, and explaining, in the first book of a series.  Thankfully, the humans are clueless and need plenty explained to them.  As we’re introduced to our new extraterrestrial allies, the level of technology that we’ll be able to use is explained, as well as some basic military knowledge that some of the audience might not know.  Again, I’m not a military fiction fan, and since I have pretty much no military knowledge at all, a few parts can be a little tricky to get through, but never bad enough to stop reading.

The place where all of John Ringo’s books shine, however, is the characters.  As the books go on, you get really attached to the characters and want them to win.  Mike’s father seems like a blast, too, and I’m wondering if Cally might turn out like the girl in Kick-Ass.

All in all, it’s a great book to start a series out with, and certainly well worth your time.

Highs:  Great setup for the series, interaction between characters

Lows:  A little hard to follow the military terms sometimes

Verdict:  Definitely worth the hard parts for the story

Further Reading:  Gust Front, Live Free or Die

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