Eye of the Storm by John Ringo
Cover art by Kurt Miller
Published by Baen Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
After the Posleen occupation of Earth was lifted and humanity's future was secured at the end of Hell's Faire Col. Mike O'Neal set off to secure the long-term safety of the galaxy. This meant sweeping outward and backward along the Blight, the vast expanse of ruined worlds that had been stripped and destroyed by ravenous Posleen hordes, until the Posleen threat was permanently eliminated.
It has been a long and bitter fight, and sometimes it has felt more like the labors of Sissyphus, since the Posleen reproduce and mature at such a rapid rate that a single planet missed anywhere in the galaxy could become the origin point for another disastrous plague of the yellow-skinned monsters which devour everything in their paths. And it doesn't help that Earth's so-called allies, the Darhel, have been systematically undermining the war effort, not to mention doing everything in their power to reduce humanity as a species to perpetual debt peonage much like the Indowy have been, only as janissaries instead of crafters.
At the beginning of this novel, Iron MIke is on yet another planet, fighting what seems to be a battle indistinguishable from so many others, one that won't end until the last Posleen here is dead. And then he finds something truly extraordinary -- a valley inhabited by humans who have managed to hold their own against the Posleen, and whose elite have been peculiarly modified to more closely resemble the Darhel, to the point that meeting one activates Mike's spinal reflex of hostility, until he realizes what is actually going on.
And that's not all. They've also got a book that tells some very interesting things about human history and prehistory, things very different from what is taught in history books. Things the Darhel are willing to have their agents commit mass murder in order to conceal.
The next thing Mike knows, the entirety of Fleet Strike is being systematically wiped out from orbit and he's under arrest for war crimes over an incident that happened in the very first battle he fought against the Posleen, on the sweatshop world of Diess. As the trial progresses it becomes progressively obvious that everything has been blatantly rigged with a predetermined verdict to be followed by the prisoner's mysterious death during transportation as having been shot while trying to escape. For Mike a completely hopeless situation -- until one of the officers involved in the farce rediscovers a tiny fragment of human decency in the soul he thought he'd completely sold to the Darhel.
And not a moment too soon, for the news is coming in of Federation worlds falling to a rapacious new enemy. The first few are just more of the notorious sweatshop worlds covered with megascrapers, each crampacked with Indowy clans toiling day and night to produce the wealth that enable the Darhel to live in the lap of luxury. The Federation lost a number of them in the Posleen War, and the Darhel are willing to write off a few more while they figure out who the heck this new enemy is and how to fight them after having just destroyed their principle offensive weapon.
But then worse news comes in: Darhel worlds are falling as well, and the line of advance is pointing directly at the capital world of the Galactic Federation. Suddenly the Darhel are on the verge of panic, and more than a few of them succumb to lintatai when the loss of emotional control and resultant surrender to fight-or-flight reflex releases the Tal hormone.
Although the new enemy is a complete surprise to the Darhel and other Children of the Aldenata, they are not unknown to the Himmit. Although the Himmit reveal for the first time that they have forms other than the froglike Scouts with which the Galactic Federation has become familiar, they also make it plain that their secretive Empire will not become involved in the war against this Hedren Tyranny on behalf of the Federation, for the balance of powers is far too precarious for them to risk any of their resources that may well soon be needed to protect their own polity against this threat.
And the Hedren are a far worse threat than the Posleen, where were little more than barbarians with technology they could use but did not understand, which was replicated by automated forges from patterns and specifications that had been established by the Aldenata. Just having a leader who was a competent tactician and could think beyond the next assault, the next gathering of thresh was a major step up for Posleen. By contrast, the Hedren actually understand and systematically use the technology which the Indowy call Sohon, not merely for manufacture of goods, but as a weapon of conquest and to control the brutalized subject races under them (think a version of Larry Niven's Slaver Empire with a ruling race that's actually competent in the place of the hopelessly stupid Thrintun whose only asset is their Power of telepathic domination). For the Hedren conquer not just to devour and destroy, but in order to create and rule a powerful and lasting empire in which those races which they permit to survive will toil endlessly both to support the ruling race's lifestyle and further conquests.
Now the Darhel, having just seen to the destruction of the one truly competent fighting force in a political maneuver, are in desperate need not just of human fighting prowess, but of Mike O'Neal himself. He alone has the reputation that can create and weld together a new fighting force that will have any chance of holding the line and preserving at least some parts of the Galactic Federation. So it's with considerable delight that Mike takes charge and turns the tables on the Tir Dol Ron, the Darhel who'd been virtual overlord over Earth for the past several decades. Yes, the Tir will now henceforth serve as Mike commands, and there will be dire consequences for the entire Darhel species should there be any further interference with the war effort along the lines of the sabotage humanity endured during the Posleen War.
Up to this point Ringo has created a very interesting new direction for the Legacy of the Aldenata series, and even if it pretty much destroys everything that was established for The Hero, he's got a new threat that promises to carry major conflict for several more books without looking too obviously like he's trying to top himself. Unfortunately, this is also the point at which the book hits a major problem -- the pell-mell action stops so that we can have a lengthy and frustratingly draggy training sequence.
This problem has cropped up in two of his other series -- in both the Council Wars series and the Looking Glass series the later books have had lengthy passages covering in excruciating detail the necessary preparations for the critical mission, to the point that the reader is practically yelling, "let's get on with the action." In my reviews of East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Claws that Catch I referred to this kind of material as "housekeeping." In both of those novels this material was at the beginning, when there was a very real possibility that a reader would become bored or frustrated and decide to give up on the book, but in this one it's after the reader should be hooked as a result of all the action that's already happened -- except that some of it is so excruciatingly slow that there's a real probability that the reader will either start skipping ahead or give up altogether.
Now I do appreciate the need to make a training sequence feel sufficiently weighty to give a real sense of just how much work is going into the preparations -- far too many training montages, especially in the movies, make the process feel far too quick and easy. But at the same time, the reader is reading this book for entertainment, not to study for a class, and is under no obligation to toil through boring or tedious parts.
After reading an article by Orson Scott Card about conflict within a group of good guys and how it helps add richness and depth to a story, I realized that the problem with the training sequences is a lack of just that. The characters get along and work together as a team too well, without the jostling and jockeying for position that you usually find among a group of people learning how to work together. What little conflict there is -- in particular, the business about team names that crops up as the sohon adepts are integrated into the combat units -- is simply too little, too late. Compare that petty bickering to the game of wits between the Hispanic gang members and Gunny Pappas back in A Hymn Before Battle, which finally culminated in the climactic confrontation in which Gunny Pappas gave them the choice of burning their illicit gains or being unmasked and sent to the stockade. In that training sequence there real things at stake if the conflict between the Gunny and the gang wasn't resolved in a way that reaffirmed military discipline.
However, even with those major problems, the novel ends on a cliffhanger sufficient that I'm actually looking forward to seeing the next novel in this series.
Review posted August 19, 2010.
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