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Yellow Eyes by John Ringo and Tom Kratman
Cover Artist: Stephen Hickman
Review by Ernest Lilley
Baen Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 1416521038
Date: 03 April, 2007 List Price $26.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

In the eighth novel of the The Posleen war series, in which humanity stands more or less alone against a caste bound alien race (the Posleen) who are out to chomp their way through everything made of meat in the universe, the action focuses on the tiny nation of Panama, and the Canal that has claimed generations of men's lives already. The Posleen have come in force, the canal lies right in their path, and if it falls, Earth's economies and food supplies will almost certainly fail in a domino like cascade of events.

With John Ringo's "War against the Posleen" going into its eighth book, you'd think humans would have learned that our alien allies don't really have our best interests at heart. While US analysts understand that we must hold the Panama Canal for Earth's survive, our galactic "allies" don't seem to see the problem. They'd much rather humans shipped out to the front on other worlds and took some minor losses at home. Really, they can't understand why the Americans are so stubborn, not like their reasonable Euro-cousins. Of course, the Darhel are using the war as an opportunity to let both humans and Posleen reduce each other to rubble so that they can pick over the spoils without risk, and the last thing in the universe they want is for us to emerge from the conflict on our feet.

The Darhel are our source of galactic technology, and have wormed their way into our confidences at the highest levels, so it turns out that while we know Panama is critical to humanity's survival, the US can't spare more than a fraction of the forces or equipment the job calls for. Panama will have to defend itself from several hundred thousand blood thirsty aliens swarming through the jungle with tiny brains and big appetites.

This would be the army that US troops decimated in 1989, when Manuel Noriega refused to hand over power after an election. Though that action took only a few days, it was notable for two things; first, that a number of the senior officials and officers abandoned their troops to escape, and second, that an under-supplied army with broken leadership and an overwhelming technological disadvantage could hold those troops off at all.

What Panama needs, they contend, is leadership to follow, and arms to fight with. Unfortunately, you go to war with the corrupt dictatorship you've got, not the strong military leader you want. Or alien allies, for that matter.

Yellow Eyes is a pretty thick book, and it needs to be, as it covers the conflict from a number of viewpoints; There are the powered mobile infantry suits of Scott Conner's and his troops, back on Earth after taking serious losses off world, only to arrive home to personal loss. There is the artillery corp of Senora Digna Miranda, once a soldier in the Thousand Day War, now an old woman given a young body through galactic technology. War comes to the rain forest, where the Chocoes Indians idea of advanced weaponry might be a compound bow...but in the right hands, it's a damn fine idea. The mechanized war machines and merely human infantry of Captain Suarez, old machines, and second rate ones perhaps, but simpler and easier to maintain in the jungle as a result.

While that's all great mil-fic, the pièce de résistance is the Naval side of the conflict. Resurrected from the mothballed WWII fleet and given galactic level enhancements, the Cruisers Salem and Des Moines, along with the battleship Texas now mounting planetary defense weaponry designed to keep the space war in space, and off their backs. With updated weapons and a fire control system built on alien computer technology, this small fleet can lay down fire power that a squadrons of B-52s would envy, but that's not why you'll want to race from battle to battle to return to the cruisers, or at least to the Des Moines. You see, the heart of CA-139 is it's galactic tech AI, and due to an accident in shipping (it was left on and without external connection during the trip to Earth) it's quite insane. So insane that it feels right at home adopting the persona of Daisy Mae from the Lil Abner comics popular when the ship was built at the end of WWII.

By the standards of the Darhel, Daisy Mae might be insane, but as far as her sailors standards she's their kind of crazy: independent, willful, and totally committed to the mission. Not to mention that she's in love with her captain. Though many a sailor might love their ship, it's not an easy match...but in Panama, where passion runs hotter than in northern climes, love can conquer an amazing number of obstacles. Which is good, because between the Posleen invaders, the Machiavellian Darhel, and a good old corrupt government, there will be obstacles aplenty.

Which, of course, is where real the fun is.

It's interesting to see how the two authors have blended advanced and abandoned technology to create a new fighting force. Fans of John Scalzi's Old Mans War Series, which wraps up this month in The Last Colony (reviewed) will note that here too old soldiers never die, they just get galactic tech rejuvenations which spit them out seventeen years old and ready to do things that start with "f". Time spent hanging out with these new/old folks is good time indeed, though they come from a world where right and wrong are easier to see than the ones we have to live in when we put down the pages. The authors might disagree, and they might even be right, but it might be more complicated than they let on. Science Fiction, as a genre, has been criticized for reducing the complexity of the universe to simplistic terms, at least when it comes to the social sphere. Even technology is frequently glossed over in techno-babble, relegating the workings of things to super-science black boxes. But if you want to really see simplification at it's best, there's nothing better than mil-sf, where the lines between good and bad are constructed along the values of a more romantic era, and which boil down to simple ideas fit for heroes without a lot of free time on their hands. Courage. Honor. Commitment.

It may take a while for those values to rise to the surface, or for those without them to fall away from the fight, but once the Panamanian force finds it's feet, aliens and cowards find they're in for a hell of a stompin'. Which is all well and good, but that doesn't mean anybody gets out alive. Some do, some don't, but in the end they will live or die facing the fight, which is all the best of them could ask.

Our Readers Respond

From Author: Tom Kratman:
    Well, _I_ liked it. Go figure. Nice review.

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