Friday, January 9, 2015

War Dogs by Greg Bear

 In The Princess Bride there is a line, "Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure." I feel that since the invention of science fiction there have only been three future war novels that were rated the most exciting, the most enduring: Haldeman's The Forever War, Scalzi's Old Man's War, and Card's Ender's Game. Bear's latest, War Dogs, seems to me to be a tribute to the first of those, Forever War, in some sense.

Note: If Haldeman had stopped with The Forever War and never written the sequels, Peace and Free, the world would not be diminished by much - snoozers, in my opinion. Which brings to mind my usual rant about authors who continue to write long after they've said all they really have to say.

WARNING: This post contains some bad words later on. Stop reading immediately f that offends you.

Bear is one of those authors who's been around a while, and I've read a fair amount of his work, but it all happened before I started blogging, so not many of them are reviewed here. Read Blood Music some time if you get a chance, or the even more tightly written novella by the same name from which it was expanded.

This book plays around with a couple of interesting tropes, one typical SF and another that appears in mainstream stories quite often. The first one has been around since at least The Day the Earth Stood Still; the appearance of technologically advanced and apparently benevolent aliens on Earth, who make demands on all Earthlings "for their own good." The second has been around possibly since the invention of warfare; the tale of ordinary soldiers, "grunts", fighting in a war they don't particularly care about, waged for reasons they cannot comprehend. Bear calls his "benevolent" aliens The Gurus.

The trio of prior works mentioned above use the second trope, and modifies the first to a "hostile alien encounter" trope, so Bear's twist is mildly innovative - I've seen it before from other authors, but memory fades when it comes to naming names.

In fact, there's a really cute (in my opinion) backhanded reference to The Forever War in War Dogs. If you haven't read the book, you need to know that Haldeman's space marines address all of their senior officers with the greeting, "Fuck You, Sir!" to get the joke.

"The Gurus made it clear, however magnanimous they might seem, that they found offensive any and all sexual profanity. Words that showed disrespect to the sacred biological functions of reproduction."

So, Bear's Skyrines (Sky Marines) can't even say the word, "fuck",  much less use it to salute their officers. Irony on a number of levels.

Bear's hero in this tale, "a white boy from Moscow, Idaho", is Master Sergeant Michael Venn. He and his squad mates have been shipped to Mars "The Red" to fight against the Gurus enemies, The Antags. The drop has gone horribly wrong, and the survivors stagger from one mess to the next for a great deal of the book. The story is told through flashbacks by Venn after he returns to Earth after the mission, and Bear adds in even more old and familiar SF tropes as the pages flash by, diluting the flavor bit by bit.

After finishing this book, I have to wonder if Bear is just attempting to set the stage for a series of novels - there were just far too many elements stirred together in a gallimaufry of SF motifs, and the whole plot just meanders to a stopping point which resolves nothing. Only time will tell.

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