By Dan Abnett
No one has waged open war for hundreds of years. When there are countless planets to inhabit, it takes less energy to simply find a new place to live and get resources than to fight over what’s right in front of you. However, something is happening on Eighty-Six. Rumbles of battles fought between US and Bloc forces reach reporter Lex Falk.
Falk doesn’t believe it. Sure, there’s fighting. Probably locals. He’s old and tired and reporting mostly out of habit. He doesn’t need to for money, and he no longer has a fire in his belly. Plus, his hip is acting up.
The military embeds Falk, along with other reporters, on a typical milkrun. Nothing happens. Falk is prepared to write off the entire venture.
A businessman, though, has been losing money because of the rumors. People aren’t investing in the planet. He finds a way to illegally embed Falk in a unit by inserting Falk directly into a soldier’s head. He experiences and feels what the soldier feels, though he’s not in control.
Until the war turns hot and his ride gets shot in a firefight.
Now Falk is trapped inside a dead soldier and must find a way home to be extracted. Now is a bad time for his reporter’s instincts to come back. Nothing’s ever simple.
I’ve long heard accolades of Abnett’s writing, but I’ve never had the opportunity to read any of his stories. Let me say: his praise is deserved. He tells a great story with realistic characters and involved action sequences.
When I read the description on the back of the book, I was worried this would turn into a “war in Iraq is bad!” book, but I’m thrilled to report that there is no such message. Soldiers are treated in a way that matches everything I know from my buddies who have served in the military. That means that the book includes quite a few expletives, but I found it all in line with the setting. It also means the troops display an incredible loyalty to each other.
The world Abnett spins is fantastic. He employs a unique yet clear vocabulary. He presents great science fiction concepts. For instance, people can get ‘ling patches that are installed directly into their brains and allow them to speak and understand different languages or simply stop them from swearing. Though the peace he mentions is dubious, he makes it real by portraying the situation as a galactic cold war. The politics involved between civilians, corporations, and nations are explained with clarity.
Because the book takes place during a war, you can guess on some action. Abnett writes action well. He varies the nature of each conflict and keeps the pace fast. Books can bog down at high-action parts, but there’s no slogging through such material here.
The book caused me some worry as we approached the finale. A main plotline within the book involves the question of the cause of the war. What would be so important to shatter a hundred-years long peace? Usually, the answer precipitates the final conflict. The revelation happens before that final battle. Think, for example, the uncovering of the truth of Miranda in the movie Serenity. I got closer and closer to the end, I was worried the book would end by saying, “And I hope we find out what’s going on someday,” like a bad episode of X-Files or Voodoo Planet by Andre Norton. Abnett plays with the reader… and then pulls back the curtain five pages from the end. And, I must say, the unveiling is well done and fitting within the plot.
The book is great. If you’re looking for excellent military scifi, pick this up. It gets my recommendation!
Embedded will be available for purchase March 29, 2011.
Legal nuts and bolts: I received this book for free from Angry Robot for this review.