Recon One-Five: A Nineteen Galaxies Novel by John Charles Scott – Book Review [Bellarius]
Taking a break from major publishers, Bellarius reviews the science fiction military novels Recon One-Five by John Charles Scott.
“A flawed gem of a novel which is the epitome of love it or hate it” – The Founding Fields
Set part way through the war raging across the Andromeda galaxy in the 41st century, Recon One-Five is intended to be an entry point to the Nineteen Galaxies novels. Explaining the events of the war thus far and not quite as continuity heavy as some previous instalments, it focuses upon a single operation on one world. An effort by an isolated platoon of Terrans to break a deadlock with the alien Jalic, turning the tide in a two hundred day conflict which has cost the lives of billions.
Deployed and ordered to initiate an assault upon the capital planet Nano Rimmo, the elite 908th “Pathfinders” Special Infantry Regiment finds itself struck by disaster at every turn. Ambushed in an ion storm with many of their number dead or MIA, it falls to 15th platoon to fight their way out and finish the battle the regiment couldn’t.
The book begins sometime before this outlining the war and giving a glossary for various terms and military jargon. Beginning with the arrival of the Jalic in the Andromeda galaxy and the various efforts by the Terrans to drive them from their territory. It reads more like something you’d expect to find in an Imperial Armour book than in a full novel, but does help to impress upon the reader the length of the war. The only problem is that while this is interesting, many elements go unused within the novel itself and serve as more of a backdrop.
When the novel begins in full it follows the initial airborne disaster the blurb hinted at, the Pathfinders entering the ion storm and the ambush which takes out most of the regiment. While on the one hand it was good to actually have a blub not spoil half the story and the background lead directly into events, it did give very little time to establish the characters. We only see them for a short period of time prior to the engagement. While they are simple enough to gauge in this time, there’s not enough of real reason to connect to them at first. Thankfully by the time dropships finish being swatted out of the skies and events move onto ground, you have a good idea of who is who. It’s just an awkward start to the tale jumping from one event to the next.
Sticking with the action, the vast majority of it is well handled with the strength of events usually being the build-up towards the fight itself. Whether it be the opening air battle or the local fauna tracking members of 15th platoon in a hunt; Scott gives necessary weight to events. Never relying upon so much foreshadowing to slow the tale’s rapid pace but enough to garner investment in what is to come. The story is very event driven and as such this becomes its strength.
Unfortunately this asset is offset by the issue of the villains and the character’s actions. The Jalic do extremely little to stand out and often feel more like your common or garden Star Trek villain of the week than a huge threat to all. What little we do learn of them isn’t really expanded upon enough and unfortunately we just don’t see enough instances of their power or ruthlessness within the book. The fact a group are fooled by a “Look! Behind you!” trick hardly helps things. Yes, that happens, and levels of such stupidity appear more than once. While there are not enough of these facepalming moments to ruin the novel as they did with Death of Antagonis, they’re still severely immersion breaking.
However, the real make or break moment of the story comes with the editing and strength of descriptions. The quality of each varies heavily from page to page. Resulting in moments which are perfectly adequate, defining scenes and events, while others are hamstrung by repetition and poorly detailed spaces or conditions of their environment. It’s easily the book’s biggest problem and had it been better edited chances are its final mark would have been considerably higher.
There are ultimately two groups Recon One-Five will appeal to the most. The first are those travelling frequently. People spending a good hour or two on public transports to work per day or are too tired to finish something like A Clash of Kings with a long and complex narrative; but ultimately want something which isn’t overly simplistic.
The other is young adult readers. The narrative structure and style, length and pacing of the book is great for those looking to read about a conflict which doesn’t glorify war or talk down to its audience. In many respects it’s almost perfect as a gateway to future war novels. It contains subject matter like orbital conflict and its effects on ground warfare, prolonged campaigns and glossaries to enhance the military atmosphere, but utilises it in a easily accessible way. Those made uncomfortable by some of Heinlein’s ideological standings in Starship Troopers would do well to take a look at this one, even with less heavy themes and a weaker narrative style.
For all its problems it’s still worth considering reading through. Between likable characters, fast pacing, good action and aspects of military tales; there is enough to enjoy if you’re willing to forgive flaws. Take a look at Amazon.com’s preview of its first pages, if you like what you see you’ll probably have fun with this one.