Into the Looking Glass
by John Ringo
Review by Ernest Lilley
Baen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0743498801
Date: 01 May, 2005 List Price $24.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
If you're into Heinleinian Mil SF, you should probably just send Baen a few hundred bucks and tell them to send you everything John Ringo writes. Which is not to say that he's "the new Heinlein" because he's more than that, he's the new standard for mixing a certain amount of whimsy and hard SF with a lot of hard core combat and a couple of really likable characters. If I've any complaint, it's that I'd like to see him branch out more from battle fic to books like RAH's "Tunnel in the Sky" or other character driven stories before he gets too squarely pegged in one field.
In Into the Looking Glass we get the start of a new series, in which a physicist manages to create a Higgs boson particle which opens a doorway to another universe. That alone would be enough fun for a story, but once the boson generator is turned on, despite it's having destroyed everything for miles around with a blast of nuclear proportions, it won't shut off. So gateways to other worlds start popping up all over the place. And what comes through those gates doesn't look pretty. Or friendly. Or easy to send back.
One of the delights in this book is that it's framed against current times, and though they are unnamed, it's pretty clear that the president is "W", his national security adviser is Dr. Rice, and the University of Florida is the center of a the really big zone of destruction caused by the discovery of a way to create a Higgs Boson, aka the "god" particle, and the state is presided over by Jeb. Not that these folks do much more than provide a chance for the author to stop and brief them (and us) periodically, but it's a swell touch. Since its all pretty much a disaster, it's only natural that FEMA is on the scene as well, checking breathing masks and giving safety briefings (you may experience reduced or increased gravity...) but Ringo gives everyone their due, pointing the humor out, while making fools of none.
The main character is a physicist who happens to work for a beltway bandit consultancy and finds himself commuting from teleportation gate to gate via fighter plane at military thrust and running around in the field with a bunch of Navy Seals determined to send some really aggressive alien invader types back where they came...or off to hell, whichever comes first. But these are hardened alien warriors themselves, and they're not going easy. Nor do the Seals get to do it alone. Things quickly turn into full scale war on home soil with National Guard and regular military called in. The author doesn't forget that we've got commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan either, and we don't abandon those operations, but alien hordes coming through the gates represents a very clear and present danger.
Though the viewpoint pops around a bit to various new crisis, and all the folks we meet are well done, this is basically a "buddy novel" starring Bill Weaver, as the iconoclastic egghead who does martial arts and mountain biking to help clear his head for particle physics, and Miller (Command Master Chief) the toughest of a tough crew, bouncing around from crisis to crisis trying to save the world.
We get help from aliens from France, or at least from a gateway that pops up in France, and as the bad guys swarm through on our soil it becomes clear that the help they offer may be almost as bad as being overrun by aliens that can turn humans into demonic warriors on the other side. Almost as bad, because in order to stop the hordes, wiping out humanity may be a small price to pay in the bigger scheme.
A difference between Ringo's stories and Heinlein's is that RAH tended to pit mundanes against rational man. In story after story you'll find folks refusing to believe that things are changing around them and a few courageous people dealing with it. Not so Ringo. His people are generally more willing to step up to the plate and deal with whatever comes. Of course, the folks he's thinking of have had about half a century more time to adjust to future shock than RAH's had, and more than one character points out that he's able to relate to the weirdness around him because he's read some SF, or should have read more.
Give folks a chance to use common sense in uncommon settings and you'll be pleasantly surprised, seems to be the author's message, at least in part, and I don't think he's wrong. The flip side to that is that organizational thinking isn't able to adapt to changing situations rapidly enough for the high-speed world of today and tomorrow, and even more than in days of yore, the fate of the world can depend on one good man, woman, or child.
Clearly this is the first in a series of books and from here on things can only get weirder, so I strongly suggest jumping in at the start.