Off the Bookshelf: Project Nemesis, Strange Dogs, Valiant Dust

It’s been a slow couple of months for book reading as I’ve been focusing on knocking down my pile of comic books. Since my summer reading list ended back in September I’ve read two books and a novella, but the break gave me time to recharge and start contemplating my Winter 2017 reading list.

Project Nemesis

Project Nemesis (Amazon) by Jeremy Robinson is about an American kaiju born from wrath and forbidden science. The book is a by-the-numbers thriller inspired by equal parts Godzilla and X-Files.

It begins with two murders, then introduces us to Jon Hudson. He’s the lead investigator for Homeland Security’s “Fusion Center-P”. Normally Fusion Centers, which serve as clearing houses for intelligence information, are connected to cities, but Hudson’s “Fusion Center-P” is dedicated to paranormal activity.

Mostly this involves Hudson running around the country tracking down alleged Sasquatch and Mothman sightings, so when he’s sent to main to trackdown Bigfoot he’s skeptical … and more interested in downing a couple of six packs than investigating the unknown. After things go very wrong in a backwoods corporate research facility staffed with ex-military officers, Hudson is suddenly facing much bigger threats than fending off hangovers and errant bears.

The novel proceeds in predictable but fun fashion, as Nemesis grows ever larger and people make all the sorts of bad decisions you’d expect them to make until Hudson and his team are finally empowered to put things right.

It’s filled with monster movie cliches, up to and including the attractive sheriff that the lead character falls in love with, but it’s a decent enough popcorn book. Just don’t think too hard about it.

Strange Dogs

Strange Dogs (Amazon) by James S.A. Corey, is an Expanse novella that takes place between the sixth and seventh books in the series. It takes place on the extrasolar world of Laconia, which was originally meant to be a scientific outpost but transformed into a Martian military colony.

The main character is Cara, a young girl who loves the ecology of Laconia, but doesn’t quite understand how it works … and how local and Terran biology can be fatal to one another.

It’s a creepy little story, that hints of new manifestations of the protomolecule while simultaneously explaining what the Martians were up to on the other side of the interstellar gates that have caused so much chaos and conflict in the Earth system. It’s definitely worth reading if you’re an Expanse fan.

Valiant Dust

Long-time readers know I’m a big fan of nautical fiction, particularly Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels set in the 1800s and featuring the British navy. I’m also a big fan of space opera, and when I can find a series that combines nautical and speculative fiction I devour them.

Richard Baker’s Valiant Dust (Amazon) is one such novel. Baker, whom I’ve previously only read in the context of his work for Dungeons & Dragons, created a universe patterned after interplay of imperial powers during Earth’s 19th century. Humans colonized the stars, but then lost contact with those worlds for several centuries.

As the novel opens, new starfaring empires have arisen and are re-establishing contact with the lost worlds. The resulting dynamic bears an intentional resemblance to the imperial phases of the European powers, though in the initial novel these stellar states are not yet at war with one another.

The main character of the novel is Sikander Singh North, a prince from Kashmir, one of these re-discovered worlds. Seeking to rapidly accelerate their technological development and catch up with the great powers, Kashmir allied itself with Aquilan Commonwealth.

North is a gunnery officer in the Commonwealth Navy assigned to the CSS Hector. He’s also the equivalent of a prince on his homeworld; combined with his outsider status as a Kashmiri, forces North to prove his worth twice over to the Hector’s officers.

The ship is dispatched to Gadira, a diaspora world founded by Islamic moderates and going throw growing pains all to familiar to North. It also proves to be a political battleground as the Dremark Empire — a rival Great Power to the Commonwealth — attempts to assert itself in the system.

Most of the book is given over to political scheming and world building, with a few mysteries along the way. It’s well-done and respectful off all the cultures involved, and its story culminates in a satisfying manner that nicely sets up additional books in the series. I particularly liked Baker’s approach to starship combat in this universe, which is that long-range missiles are ineffective because advanced computers can easily shoot them down. This means that ships are forced to get close to one another and exchange broadsides of kinetic ammunition (basically chunks of tungsten or other alloys hurled at great speeds) or use a “warp torpedo” that is fired at range, disappears into warp space, then re-appears at the last minute to strike the enemy.

I particularly enjoyed the conceit that the Great Power militaries don’t actually know how to fight a space war with their current generation of weapons; there’s a lot of theory, and a lot of practice, but when it all comes to a head, much of that theory proves incorrect. I look forward to the next book in the Breaker of Empires series.

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Cover art for the Strange Dogs novella. Credit: Hachette Book Group

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