Friday, 23 June 2017

The Vang: The Battlemaster


And now I've finished the third book in Christopher Rowley's The Vang series, the first being  Starhammer, and the middle book being The Military Form, and what a ride it has been.

This is not your usual series or even for that matter trilogy, the story being far looser than what one has come to expect when reading either.  Yet it has elements of both.

It's a series if one considers the first novel to be a prequel written to define the setting, which it is because it lays down a lot of world building stuff that underpins the sequels.  However, given the settings are separated by a thousand years they're not exactly sequels except for the theme that links them all together.

As for being a trilogy, then if the simple definition of a trilogy is three books that tell a single story then yes but, the single story is not about the humans.  It is instead a story about the Vang, and Rowley manages to generate in the second and third book quite a lot of sympathy for the plight of the Vang even as they do horrible things to the humans, which is quite an achievement.

All added up it makes for an interesting execution of what a story is, and how it can be told.

And it is very clear I've given nothing away about the plot of the story, and I'm not going to.  If eighties SF interests you, as in all that is old is not necessarily passe, then these books are well worth reading.  If one like military SF where the military side is mostly from the alien perspective, then this story will also be of interest.  If one thinks that the eighties is full of old fashioned stuff which has no value, then you probably want to skip these.

I loved it, and more importantly I want to read more by Christopher Rowley.  The biggest question is how is it that these novels aren't in print, it seems such a shame to me, as they have a lot to offer new readers coming into the genre.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Vang: The Military Form


I reviewed Starhammer here, The Vang: The Military Form is Christopher Rowley's sequel and middle part of what is loosely a trilogy: the first book is effectively a prequel to the second book, and the third is effectively a postscript.  As I said before, the story telling is compelling, and like before I found myself picking the book up in spare moments to read a few more pages.

The story takes place a thousand years after the events in the first book, and mankind has spread throughout the galaxy, free from the threat posed the Laowans who dominated the first novel.  But, the threat of the Vang remains, mostly in remnants of their technology.  This book starts with a crew who finds something interesting in space, the kind of something that could make them very, very rich or very, very dead.

It's not much of a spoiler to say that the later is closer to what actually happens, as in lots of people die as the consequence of waking a military form Vang, which then proceeds to do what it does best: conquer lesser forms by assimilating them.  There's several twists and a wry commentary on how rulers demands mean that the military is not allowed to do what is necessary; and that's just from the Vang perspective.

Had to go away and start reading the third when I finished this, which says everything you need to know really.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Starhammer


This book is the first part of a loosely connected trilogy by an author I've not read.  It came recommended to me from a friend of a friend, and I uhm'd and aah'd about getting copies because the prices on Amazon were at one point astronomical.  Fortunately, I kept an eye on them and they dropped back to more reasonable levels after about a year.  Also, reviews on Goodreads were a bit mixed, and after reading the book I can see why, but my usual comment applies–they're wrong because they miss the point.

Let's start with the pitchline:  Aliens meet the Thing...

At one level that tells you all you need to know about the theme and the tone of these books.  If you aren't able to manage visceral shock and horror then these books are not for you.  However, if like me you enjoyed the film Aliens, and loved John Carpenter's The Thing, then this book and its sequels may well rock your boat.

However, terms and conditions apply.  This is not Colonial Marines in space kicking ass, and the alien Vang are not exactly the Thing either, being a far more rational, and disturbing exo-parasite life form.  Also, the writing has elements that would get a lot of criticism in today's market, for example, the occasional use of mind hopping in chapters.

But, this none of this detracts from the story that is compelling, driving forward from one crisis to another, that leads to the ultimate reveal of a dead alien races weapon, the eponymous Starhammer, created to fight the Vang.  Highly recommended, and I will add the Vang were the inspiration for the Flood in the Halo series.