Keep Your Friends Close and Your Weapons Hot
409 pages. Acknowledgments. About the Author. Excerpt from sequel.
This is one of those sci-fi novels where the author explains the background story piece by piece as he tells his story, which works well to keep up the reader's interest. It also means that I can't completely explain what the book is about, because that would ruin the fun for you.
As we learn on page one, Maseo Kaytu as a child befriended the occupying soldiers, then led them into an ambush. His grandmother, leader of the resistance, ordered him to do it. (There's more to the story, but you won't know that for a while…)
The now-grown Maseo wants to enlist in the military as a way of paying for his past actions. The challenge is that they won't accept candidates from his low social class. But… if he commits a crime… his punishment will be assignment as a cry pilot. Which will probably be fatal.
OK, a little bit of background. This novel is set in the far future. Three AIs have achieved sentience, but then were mysteriously destroyed. While the AIs were still around, they initiated a program to restore the world's ecosystem (most of the world is now covered in goo). An unfortunate side effect is that the goo sometimes 'restores' bio-engineered creatures from a previous age, which seem driven to kill everyone. The AIs were asked to come up with a weapon to defeat these enemies. The inscrutable AIs invented CAVs – automated flying machines that require human pilots. Pilots that have no control. Pilots that usually end up dead. That is why they are called cry pilots.
As you might guess, Maseo survives his initial experience, and then is assigned to a special training program for infantry to fight a new bio-menace. The story is about his squad, learning to fight, learning to work together, learning to fight the system… and facing their greatest fears.
This is military sci-fi, so expect a certain level of violence. (Fortunately, futuristic technology can heal most injuries.) And in the future, we're told that a squad is something like a polygamist marriage – lots of hooking up. And there's a subplot involving drug use.
Because the author doesn't reveal the whole story about Maseo's background at first, I had a hard time buying his motivation. Eventually, he becomes a fleshed-out character, but that's a weakness in the way the author has structured his story. There's also a squad's worth of other characters, mostly two-dimensional and hard to keep track of.
Note that while the author does explain a lot of the background by the end of the novel, he is obviously setting things up for further novels in the series.
Can you game it? Maybe. As the squad goes through training, they face multiple training scenarios. However, the author seldom gets into the detail of tactics, and most of the fighting is not squad-vs-squad but squad-vs-monster. So while this novel could inspire a campaign, it would be hard to extract specific scenarios from it.
I found the novel to be highly enjoyable. The action is non-stop, the backstory is well-knit, and my only complaint is that there wasn't more tactical-level content.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .