Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier
I’ve been a science fiction/fantasy fan for as long as I can remember. My first crush was Mr. Spock, which probably speaks to why I like romance. Gotta love those emotionally unavailable men! Every once in a while I like to go back to my roots and dig out a purely sci fi adventure story. No romance. No mystery. Just a story based on a scientifically probable but not currently possible premise.
Humanity is still evolving. By its very nature evolution is a quiet, slow, gradual thing but somewhere within our DNA subtle changes are being made. With all our advances in medical science we should see the changes coming. However, when the Great Reawakening occurs it takes people all over the world by surprise. Suddenly, a small number of humans have incredible powers – the ability to control animals, raise the dead, summon storms, set fires. Rather than rejoicing, humanity fears for its safety and measures are taken to ensure that those who have magical skills are monitored. One might almost say imprisoned.
Colonel Alan Bookbinder is a paper warrior. A soldier who does all of his fighting from behind a desk, waging battle with forms and bureaucrats. When a horrible headache turns out to be the first sign of latent power, Alan does the right thing. He turns himself in to the authorities. The end result is that after much testing he finds himself a paper pusher once more, this time on an alien planet where people with powers are being used to fight a terrible war against powerful monsters.
Alan has trouble adjusting to the many changes he is forced to make. He is cut off from his family and his battle-hardened supervisor Colonel Taylor makes sure Alan knows how little his skill set is valued in a combat zone. Then all hell breaks loose and suddenly Alan finds himself a commander of a base that is cut off from home planet and on the brink of being overrun.
A secret installation many miles across hostile territory is the only hope his people have. Taking a small band of fighters with him Alan heads into dangerous territory, not knowing what to expect but knowing that the fate of all humans this side of the gate depends on their success.
Oscar Britton is considered public enemy number one. A criminal portamancer, Oscar has the rare ability to open gates between locations, allowing people to make trips in seconds that should take hours, days or years. It is his escape, along with a small band of friends, that places the base in such danger. Not only did he close the gate between Earth and the frontier base, he allowed hostile, magic-wielding natives on to the base. Now he is trying to find the best situation for him and his people. Going home to Earth they risk being captured once more by the powers that be. But staying where they are is not an option.
One of the draws for me to this book was the fact that Alan was such a nice, ordinary kind of guy. He loves his wife, he loves his daughters, he doesn’t think of himself as in any way special. When his latent ability turns out to be rare and powerful, he still doesn’t think of himself as special but is instead proud to be a useful member of the team. We probably all know dozens of Alan Bookbinders, decent guys who bring home their paychecks for love of family and quietly do their best every day of their lives with no expectation of reward. I thoroughly enjoyed having him be the hero and star of this book.
We probably all know dozens of Oscar Brittons too, more’s the pity. It’s possible that in the first book Oscar was a fabulous, winsome sort of fellow. Not in this book. Here he is a well-meaning screw up, someone who makes lots of wrong choices that cost his friends a lot but hey, his heart is in the right place. He feels like this fact should make up for getting folks killed. I can’t say I felt the same. The sections with Oscar were far less enjoyable to me than those dealing with Alan and his team.
The action sequences in the novel are well written and interesting, but the really great thing about them is that they are not the focus of the book. The characters are. This means that when fights or struggles occur we are fully invested in what is happening because we care about those it is happening to.
If you are a fan of X-Men or James Rollins novels, I would recommend this book. I felt the characters, especially Alan, were well drawn and the adventure was fun and interesting.