Sunday, August 12, 2018

Dragon Finalist for Best Military SF: Points of Impact

Although all these books are mentioned in this post,  

The PRIMARY emphasis is on 'Points of Impact'

In my prep for the 2018 Dragon Awards, this is the second book in the 'Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel' category I've reviewed. On June 23, I reviewed "Legend," by Christopher Woods, but that was before I had embarked on this quest to review ALL the finalists before Dragon Con. You can read my Amazon review Of Christopher Woods' book here. Whether I will be able to write a blog post about "Legend", now that I'm under a crunch deadline, will depend on how much time I can steal.

Preliminary Comment: about getting books to review. FEEL FREE TO IGNORE THIS!
 I MAY have more time than I had thought, at first, when I was looking at 28 reviews in 22 days.

It has long been industry standard practice for reviewers to receive complimentary copies of the works they review. While I am not a PROFESSIONAL, PAID reviewer, I am poor, so I tend not to trespass on industry standards. Almost all of the books I review, I get through my paid subscription to the Kindle Unlimited program. In addition, I can read anything published by Baen, as I have the great good fortune to have received  a VIP membership from them, as a part of the services they provide to readers who are permanently disabled. Finally,  the publisher of Castalia House  has always graciously supplied me with review copies on request (even though I trashed on of their books in my review).

Alas! One entire category, that of Best Young Adult/Middle Grade Novel, is absolutely devoid of KU, Baen, or Castalia House associations. So, that's SIX books I won't be reading; there may be more.

It's their loss, and my gain, and yours as well, gentle reader, for now I may apportion what few fragments of talent, energy, and time I possess  into providing you with QUALITY reviews.

Kind of makes you get a lump in yer throat, don't it?

Preliminary Comment: about Marko Kloos. It's only been five years since Marko Kloos EXPLODED onto the Military SF scene, with 'Terms of Enlistment." He followed that up the following year with the equally bodacious 'Lines of Departure.' That novel was the VERY FIRST indie novel (47 North is an Amazon publishing imprint) to be a finalist for a Hugo Award, in 2015.

Again, alas. Kloos chose to withdraw his novel from nomination. I reviewed 'Terms of Enlistment' , and his stated reasons for withdrawing 'Lines of Departure'  in this blog post. It wasn't the last of the Bad Things that happened related to that particular award, but it was one of the very first that drew public attention. Happily, he did NOT stop writing, and "Points of Impact" is #6 in his 'Frontlines' series. Other works may be found at his website. I'm including the link here, because I HAD to include the background graphic of beer-drinking dachshunds in a flying saucer, which was created by one Erica Hildebrand, a person with whom I was previously unfamiliar.
These are Marko's dogs.

A minor review of the book. Captain Andrew Grayson has seen too many things that give him nightmares. Like many young men, he found a way out of abject poverty through joining the military, and has been successful in his career. Promoted from the ranks due to merit, he now is a captain, commanding a small detachment of what we would call Forward Air Controllers, troops who observe the fall of ordnance from beyond the front lines. He is also tasked with leading a team of rescue specialists, who go into hostile or otherwise dangerous territory and bring out wounded or trapped personnel. However, that team is  lead by another officer-specialist, leaving the observers to Grayson.

He is currently in combat against the aliens referred to as 'Lankies,' giants with far superior technology and no inclination to communicate. The war will apparently end when one side is completely exterminated. However, he has also been in combat against other humans, both on the Earth and in space. These are his worst memories, and he holds a special grudge against a faction of the military that was involved in an aborted rebellion, after the Lankies appeared to be winning. To his dismay, they were given pardons, with the exception of the very top leadership.

He has lost troops in combat, and carries the weight of that with him constantly. His stresses are aggravated by the fact that he believes much of the damage his last command took was avoidable, had he only been given a proper mission brief.

Mitigating his loss is his marriage to Halley, who entered service at the same time he did, and is one of the very few survivors of that unit. Although they have been married for nearly the entire ten years of their service, they have only been able to be together a total of six months, much of that on leave taken jointly.

Humanity appears to be losing; but then, Grayson gets orders for a new type of warship.....

Something Marko Kloos does as well, if not better, than anybody else. There is a LOT of story contained in Books 2-5 in this series, and I haven't read them (yet). However, Marko has a gift for telling the SIGNIFICANT parts of that story through the way that it impacts the character today. No, we don't know what window the sniper bullet came through (for example). But if that sniper attack is significant to the character TODAY, we find out about it, through his reactions. It ISN'T history; it's present day environment. And in listening to Grayson talk, and seeing how he reacts, we are introduced to the significant issues. And there is none of this  'bar-story-to-new-recruit' technique to pass it along, either.

CAUTION: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD. I'm not gonna tell you the entire story, but the OUCH part of this is so personally significant, that I HAVE to comment on it. If you want to avoid exposure to what I regard as the highest point and the lowest point of the story, stop here.

Significant issues. Nobody really knows how far a person can go before they break; it's all been 'test until destruction,' pretty much. Whatever that point is, Grayson feels pretty close too it.

Big, big plus: Grayson decides on his own, after one particular flare-up, to seek help. Without doing the kind of dithering we are all too accustomed to, he makes an appointment with the doc, and keeps it. Furthermore, in the big, big plus category, he actually TAKES the medication the doc prescribes for him, and it makes him feel better. However, he does not divulge this information to another veteran of his training days, because he believes she will react with disdain.
This is a big, big plus because it treats the issue of PTSD seriously, and because it models the best way for one afflicted to improve their condition. I don't see NEARLY enough of this kind of writing. Michael Z. Williamson comes close, but his Freehold Universe is SUCH a divergence from our world that it's hard to see how his solutions could be applied. Grayson's world, on the other hand, IS our world, with time and circumstances added in.

Big, big minus: The doc Grayson reports to is fresh out of medical school, with plans to go into pediatrics. So: WHAT IN THE HECK IS SHE DOING ON THAT EXPENSIVE, IMPORTANT SHIP? Why would the staffers go through all the trouble of building the most fantastic ship EVER, and put the most experienced and proficient crews on board, and then give them a @#%$^&*%^ rookie as a counselor/doc? Veterans with PTSD need to talk to VETERANS. They have such a disconnect from the civilian (Kloos talks about this, in another context) that communication seems to be an insurmountable obstacle.

WITH REASON! Because, after he has VALIANTLY spilled his guts to Miss Newly, she then gives him some really crappy advice: take these pills, and get out of the military while you can. Now, the 'take these pills' part is right on. Pharmaceuticals can make the difference between isolation and misery, and gradually re-engaging with friends and family. But 'get out of the military while you can?' NO, dangit, he just TOLD you how disconnected he feels from civilian life! He needs to walk and talk and learn with people who have been there, and he just is NOT going to be able to do that if he gets put out on the street.

An apology. Please understand that if my criticism above is overly harsh, it's really NOT a criticism of the story; it's a criticism of reality. I'm not saying Kloos made an error in his writing; I'm saying that the military does stupid stuff, JUST AS KLOOS DESCRIBES IT.

This is personal for me. It is not my story to tell, but it is, at least in part, my story. And I have seen the system fail to take care of the wounded warrior; it's almost as if they want them to go away after they used them up. And the only help seems to come from other wounded warriors.

Yes, this book is rightfully chosen as a finalist for the 2018 Dragon Award.

Peace be on your household.


  1. My Amazon review may be found HERE!
    They were ASTOUNDINGLY fast with this! If I had known they were gonna publish it THAT fast, I would have waited and included it in the body of the post.
    But I like comments, anyway, so there's that.

  2. I'm going to have to read this. Yes-- on the Veteran stuff. Plus the
    VA assumes that only combat soldiers have PTSD. It makes for some really hard feelings in that environment.