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Starfist: Firestorm by David Sherman & Dan Cragg
Review by Ernest Lilley
Del Rey Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345460561
Date: 26 June 2007 List Price $21.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

In the classic SF film Aliens, a company of Marines is sent out on a mission, and one of them has the presence of mind to ask "Is this going to be a stand-up fight, Sir, or another bug-hunt?" They were on a bug-hunt. Unfortunately for us, in Firestorm, the twelfth in the Starfist Mil-SF series is it's a stand-up fight against a planet-full of colonists who think that while humanity is fighting a bug-war against the alien Skinks, it's be a good time to mount a war of their own...against the Confederation of Human Worlds. The greatest danger facing the Marines of the 34th FIST turns out to be the Army General in command of the mission, whose disregard for them shows an unbalanced mind at best.

When Marine Lieutenant General Kyr Godalgonz is given command of an expeditionary force on its way to bolster an operation to suppress a colonial rebellion, he knows he's going up against a fighting force to be reckoned with. He also knows that "Jason Billie". the Army General in charge of the operation, doesn't know his hindquarters from a foxhole. What he doesn't know at the outset is that Billie has a pathological hatred of Marines. How bad is it? Bad enough that the Army General would delight in nothing more than finding a way to send every Marine on the planet on a suicide mission just to get rid of them. So he does.

In fact, this plan works so well for that a third of the way through the book one of the main characters gets killed on the battlefield where he really shouldn't be in the first place. It's a freak accident, just to make sure we get the irony of warfare, but I really didn't care for it.

I liked the character and resented seeing him get dismissed, but having come a third of the way through the book with him, I was really annoyed that I'd have to latch on to a new point of view character to follow. Orson Scott Card did the same thing to me in Empire, which annoyed me for the same reason. I'm sure that the authors, both former military, would hasten to assure me that this is the way war really happens, and it's an author's right to kill off their characters, but it broke the flow of the story for me, and I never quite recovered.

The story fights its way along until the colonial revolt is crushed by the Marines, who were fighting against impossible odds and under an insane commander, then switches back to DC where the fighting turns political and therefore even uglier.

Authors Cragg and Sherman are former Army an Marine respectively, and I've no quarrel with their picture of a messed up military, leavened with a few good men and women. What happens in DC rang true to me, but the battlefield stuff failed to hold my interest, partly because there is a paucity of SF in it, and partly because the little SF they do throw in is not especially good.

If you pick up a copy of Wired, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science or any of the other tech mags out there, you'll find articles on the soldiers of tomorrow that come off a whole lot more SF than these guys. Sure they get to wear active camouflage suits that make them invisible, though it doesn't seem to affect their tactics any, and I'm certain that a current day Marine Recon soldier would find the idea more amusing than useful, since they're pretty good at not being seen when they don't want to without overworked outfits. But some of the technology just doesn't make sense.

For example, the personal weapon of the future Marine appears to be a hand held blaster that will send plasma charges as fast as he can pull the trigger. It's a classic weapon that was handy in Golden Age SF, though its limitations were evident even then. Here, we're to believe that the Marines could hang onto armored vehicles on rough terrain and shoot charge after charge into the armored hulls until they melted through or their gun muzzles melted. Personally, I'd rather not stand on top of anything I'm trying to reduce to slag, and I'm skeptical that it's remotely reasonable tech. So my question to the authors is, where are the robots, UAVs, gunshot echo-locators, powered suits, autonomous vehicles, magnetic rail guns, and other toys of destructive joy that soldiers are even now getting ready to take into combat?

All this annoys me because I like the authors writing quite well. The people in the stories come across with that reassuring "brothers in arms" feel, except for the occasional deranged officer, of course. I realize that I've only dropped in on a mutli-story saga and happened to catch a lull in the bug-war, but I left feeling quite disappointed.

My only consolation is that the end of the book makes it clear that the story is about to get its priorities straight and head back out to war against the alien Skink menace. That's something I can look forward to.

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