Title: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone
Author: Myke Cole
Publisher: Ace (now Penguin Random House)
Publisher’s Blurb: In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.
When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil…
Shadow Ops: Breach Zone is book 3/3 in the Shadow Ops series
This series is a mess. At first I thought it was because Mil SF isn’t my thing. But then I like John Scalzi’s writing just fine.
Because I enjoyed Cole’s Sacred Throne trilogy so much (third one due in October, 2019) I had hopes for Shadow Ops. What I will say, emphatically, is Cole has grown a great deal as a writer. Heloise is the hero we’ve all been waiting for.
To recap, Control Point saw Oscar Britton make some of the most bone-headed, selfish decisions ever in the history of everything. It’s in this book that Scylla is unleashed on the world. We know in no uncertain terms, she is the most dangerous and evil creature in this world, and Britton has freed her for his own selfish reason.
Book 2, Fortress Frontier, introduces us to Alan Bookbinder, a Pentagon paper-pusher who Manifests a power no one else has and is sent to the Forward Operating Base in the Source until everything goes to hell and he ends up the commanding officer. Oscar Britton is a bit player.
And now we come to Book 3, Breach Zone. It’s all come together, in one big horrifying pornographic death frenzy in Manhattan. Harlequin, a secondary character in the previous books who’s always played it by the rules, because rules are what separate the good guys from the bad, is put in charge of the defense.
Now Brigadier General Bookbinder is stuck on a US Coast Guard cutter, whose lunch is getting eaten by water goblins and leviathans, has to find his way to Harlequin’s base of operations to use Bookbinder’s unique magical power.
Oscar Britton doesn’t show up until very late in the book, still being let off the heinous thing he did in book 1. The epitome of the misunderstood hero. The monster he unleashed is leading an army of monsters to demolish Manhattan. Scylla wants to start the new world order.
And just to make sure we understand why this is personal for Harlequin, intermittent flashbacks from six years before set the scene. The romantic scene, of course.
All the complicated politics weight in. Street gangs, loyal to no one scoff when asked to join the good fight. Politicians and career officers want to use force against everything. And, in typical fashion, only Harlequin and those on the front lines actually understand why fire power won’t work, only magic will.
There’s barely any mention of the Indian part of the Source, and Bookbinder’s experiences trying to save the US FOB. Murica is truly on its own.
Then, buglesblaring, Oscar Britton arrives, makes a pretty little speech and everyone shows up to fight and save the day. Peace, justice and the American way.
Or something …
Sacred Thrones is light years better from this. I’ll call this a cautionary tale about back catalogues. Cole’s worth reading, but this series isn’t.
Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier—cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.
Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier is 2/3 in the Shadow Ops series.
Myke Cole’s second book in the Shadow Ops series is just as jam-packed as the first, Control Point, was. And it can be just as confusing.
I’ll be honest, I dug into Fortress Frontier for the simplest reason ever. I wanted to know what happened to Oscar Britton, last seen trying to make things right after he selfishly released Scylla who immediately laid waste to the SOC, opening it to invasion from the enemy indigents.
The things I had problems with in Control Point, bigotry and pick a frickin’ side would ya (Oscar Britton) are still present in Fortress Frontier. But I may have a clearer view of the larger picture being written in this series. Only book 3 Breach Zone will tell me if I’m close.
The heart of the Shadow Ops series is learning to cope with the changes brought about by unexpectable magical power manifestations. Rumors abound, and people are scared. Which leads to governmental manipulations and other ugliness well-known in this sort of fantasy world.
What Myke Cole brings to this is an inside look at what that chaos is like when the military and the governments try to handle change this massive. Cole’s writing keeps things tense, and moving along. The story he’s telling is one of great forces at play.
One of the big themes is how do you know what’s really the right thing to do, especially in the face of conflicting evidence and your own strong desires? Shadow Ops has a very strong X-Men vibe to it. People who manifest powers are subject to government control. Fear is a strong motivator.
In Frontier Force, Alan Bookbinder is a rule-following Pentagon bureaucrat who manifests an unusual power. Unlike Oscar Britton in Control Force, Bookbinder turns himself in and is subsequently sent to SOC in the Source.
Bookbinder and Britton have one thing in common, loyalty to the armed services, and to the government. The difference is Bookbinder maintains that loyalty even when his very life is threatened. Through this, Bookbinder becomes a leader people trust and follow into harrowing events.
Britton reappears in Fortress Frontier, but is pretty much as ineffective as he was in Control Force. He has agency, but every step of the way, bad decision making dogs him. The harder he tries to make up for his sloppiness, the worse it gets. It’s difficult to like or understand what Britton is about. His motivations are still selfish.
Bookbinder, on the other hand, takes the problem of being cut off from home and leads his troops through it. And part of Colonel Bookbinder’s journey is across the Source to the Indian/Hindu version of FOB. There he meets the Naga, snake like creatures who offer help but aren’t particularly forthcoming.
I wanted so much to like this book, and I did. I liked it much more than Control Point. But that doesn’t mean I can wholeheartedly recommend the series.
Still, Cole has earned enough of my readerly trust with his story-telling ability in The Armored Saint and The Queen of Crows that I’m willing to finish the trilogy with Shadow Ops: Breach Zone. Stay tuned.
Title: The Obelisk Gate
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Publisher: Orbit Books
Publisher’s Blurb: The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever.
As I read The Obelisk Gate, it became deeply personal, often driving tears to well up as I felt the searing pain of bullies, including parents whose lives can only be understood in retrospect. Nassun’s search for identity and her confusing relationship with her father reminded me of my own confusing relationships. What matter the details, save that Nassun’s search for the warm glow of love she’d once felt transferred to another father figure? Nassun finds herself the smartest, most talented in her small class, and one mistake nearly undoes the entire sense of community she’s found. It is a lifetime hard task to come to terms with one’s self and the way others react. And it can be brutal, as it proves to be for Nassun. She, at least, has the orogene power within her to make it stop. Karma’s a bitch baby.
The Obelisk Gate is a coming together. Factions find each other, comms welcome new citizens, old friends are reunited. And yet, The Obelisk Gate is about division. Factions find each other but begin plotting their war against other factions, the new citizens in comms cause disruption and new lines are drawn.
At its core The Obelisk Gate is about politics. Political identity of the orogenes, who are welcomed with open arms in Castrima. Family identity as Essun’s daughter, Nassun, wrestles with who her parents are and what that means to an eleven-year-old girl. “Good” Guardian vs. “Not so Good” Guardian, but who determines good? Stone Eaters trying to set agendas. And a narrator who, it is revealed, plays an all too godly hand in Essun’s part in powering the obelisk gate, and catching the moon.
Nowhere is safe, everyone is struggling to dig in and survive the Season which, thanks to Alabaster’s creation of the Rift in The Fifth Season, will be the longest in history, lasting thousands of years.
We follow Nassun on the road with her father, Jija, going to a place he is convinced will cure her of her orogeny and return his little girl to him. His resentful anger gets in the way of their relationship, his narcissism does not allow him to see Nassun is right in front of him and doesn’t want to be cured. Her power is big, and she’s dedicated to learning everything she can about using it. Even after giving him a warning, showing him just how strong her power is and what she can do with it, Jija is still determined to make her into his ideal daughter. Things don’t go well for Jija, and Nassun has no regrets
In Castrima, Essun gets pulled into the politics of the comm. Seeking consensus and advice, Ykka is trying to keep human prejudices from becoming deathly problems. Suspicion builds as Essun’s self-control frays around the edges. Alabaster holds the key knowledge Essun needs to reshape the world and give everyone a chance to survive.
And a very changed Schaffa is at the comm, Found Moon, where Nassun ends up. His role with Essun, when she was Daya, is mirrored in his relationship with Nassun. Only now, he expresses regret for the many horrible things did in the name of the Fulcrum. In his work with the orogenes at Found Moon, and most especially with Nassun, he sets about making amends.
The Obelisk Gate is big and complex, dark and intense. Just as The Fifth Season was filled with bigotry and violence, so too is The Obelisk Gate. Orogeny stands as the proxy for all the ‘ism’s we face in our lives; sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, all of them. And under the stress of the Season, fractures become breaks.
At the equator, Nassun, Schaffa, and their group which includes at least one stone eater. In the south, Essun and her group introduced to us in The Fifth Season. Thousands of years of history come into play, new elements are introduced, and identity politics rise to a fevered pitch. One comm wants to absorb every resource it can while on raids. Castrima will have none of it. Stone eaters circle each other, and Nassun and Essun.
Alabaster’s final words for Essun are, “First a network, then the Gate. Don’t rust it up, Essun. Inno and I didn’t love you for nothing.” While saving Castrima, she understands what he means, and as Castrima packs up to move northward into a now vacant comm which will support them for years, Essun knows how to do what she needs to do.
It is Nassun who has the last word. “Tell me how to bring the moon home.” In The Stone Sky, it will be up to mother and daughter to catch the moon, settle the rivalries, and stop the Seasons. It will be an epic battle. Just as deep and intense as the preceding books. Just as complicated, and as simple as catching the moon.
Title: Shadow Ops: Control Point
Author: Myke Cole
Publisher: Ace (now Penguin Random House)
Publisher’s Blurb: Lieutenant Oscar Britton of the Supernatural Operations Corps has been trained to hunt down and take out people possessing magical powers. But when he starts manifesting powers of his own, the SOC revokes Oscar’s government agent status to declare him public enemy number one.
Shadow Ops: Control Point is 1/3 in the Shadow Ops series.
“They want me to kill a child,” is the opening line in Shadow Ops: Control Point, which just sucked me in. That is a “wait, WTF is going on here” first line if I’ve ever read one.
And it just spins out of control, fast and furious from there. Control Point blazes hot, and scorches anyone in its path. It’s hard to keep track of what’s going on, and who’s doing what. Oh, and who’s the bad guy … no wait … good … no wait …
Oscar Britton has the rug yanked out from beneath him too many times, and after a while it gets tiresome. I feel sorry for the guy, he has to cope with so much immediate change it fucks with his decision making process at every turn. Everything he thought he knew and a life time of training are called into question the second he manifests a magical power he doesn’t understand and is forbidden by the government.
All the flip-flopping isn’t necessarily Britton’s fault, he’s just written that way. Honestly, it’s hard to have much faith in Britton, the government (contractor or otherwise), anyone who says they know how to help or fix things (except maybe for the token good guy Goblin called Marty).
At every turn, Britton is put in situations which cause him to question everything all at once, again. It gets to be a bit much. Maybe having a bomb implanted in his heart just causes Britton to make extremely bad decisions which lead to even more death and destruction until almost everything he’s come to depend on is gone, or dead.
And we, the readers, are left hanging in an unfinished story about a man in search of his own redemption. Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier, here I come.
Author: William Gibson
Publisher’s Blurb: Before the Internet was commonplace, William Gibson showed us the Matrix—a world within the world, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace. Henry Dorsett Case was the sharpest data-thief in the Matrix, until an ex-employer crippled his nervous system. Now a new employer has recruited him for a last-chance run against an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence. With a mirror-eyed girl street-samurai riding shotgun, he’s ready for the silicon-quick, bleakly prophetic adventure that upped the ante on an entire genre of fiction.
Author: William Gibson
Publisher’s Blurb: A corporate mercenary wakes in a reconstructed body, a beautiful woman by his side. Then Hosaka Corporation reactivates him, for a mission more dangerous than the one he’s recovering from: to get a defecting chief of R&D—and the biochip he’s perfected—out intact. But this proves to be of supreme interest to certain other parties—some of whom aren’t remotely human…
Mona Lisa Overdrive
Author: William Gibson
Publisher’s Blurb: Enter Gibson’s unique world—lyric and mechanical, sensual and violent, sobering and exciting—where multinational corporations and high tech outlaws vie for power, traveling into the computer-generated universe known as cyberspace. Into this world comes Mona, a young girl with a murky past and an uncertain future whose life is on a collision course with internationally famous Sense/Net star Angie Mitchell. Since childhood, Angie has been able to tap into cyberspace without a computer. Now, from inside cyberspace, a kidnapping plot is masterminded by a phantom entity who has plans for Mona, Angie, and all humanity, plans that cannot be controlled . . . or even known. And behind the intrigue lurks the shadowy Yazuka, the powerful Japanese underworld, whose leaders ruthlessly manipulate people and events to suit their own purposes . . . or so they think.
“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.” (Neuromancer, p. 51)
This from a man who sat down at a typewriter and wrote what’s considered the seminal work of cyberpunk. On a typewriter. Gibson didn’t own a computer at the time, but he had this idea, which he almost gave up on after seeing Blade Runner.
Even in 2019, when cyberspace is a part of everyday vocabulary, and most have a general idea of what it means, none of us knows what it looks like. Gibson got there first, hypothesizing what cyberspace would look, and feel, like and how humans might interact with it.
“[Case] jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix.” (Neuromancer, p. 6) Emotionally, it was “bodiless exultation,” (ibid, p. 7). “Nonspace of the matrix, the interior of a given data construct possessed unlimited subjective dimension.” (ibid, p. 63)
Disembodied, nonspace, grey, blob, or blotch. All descriptors for that which cannot be described. The books in this trilogy are filled with non-descriptive descriptions of what cyberspace looks like, and feels like. A “cowboy” jacks in by plugging a cable from the computer into a jack/port in their neck. It made complete sense to me while I was reading. Trying to describe it in my own words is difficult and stultifying. How do you describe a banana to someone who’s never seen one?
Gibson’s writing is dense and often difficult to follow, which makes sense if you’re trying to describe something undescribable. He only succeeds because he has a larger canvas to work with.
In Neuromancer, AIs in search of their other half involve complex human machinations and architectural wonders which only work in space. The AI Wintermute sets things in motion, leading Case and Molly on a merry search for its other half, the AI Neuromancer. Wintermute is manipulative, pushing humans to do its bidding. The reader’s mind isn’t the only one blown.
Two years later, in Count Zero, Gibson still grapples with describing the indescribable. We bump against a more terrestrial landscape to set the stage, but are no closer to understanding what cyberspace is.
Vodou gods appear in cyberspace so as to interface with the humans inside the matrix. It’s rumored the superconsciousness is losing bits, explaining the multiple gods encountered. Or maybe it’s another AI shoving its non-existent weight around.
Again, Gibson uses vague notions to describe what it’s like, “…a flickering, nonlinear flood of fact and sensory data, a kind of narrative conveyed in surreal jump cuts and juxtapositions. … [changing direction randomly] with each pulse of nothingness. The data had never been intended for human input.” (Count Zero, pp.23-24)
And yet, humans keep trying to be a part of the landscape. Building better and bigger tools to get inside, navigate, and stay inside. Bobby Newman, aka Count Zero from Count Zero is comatose and jacked into an infinitely large cyberdrive called an aleph, a mathematical concept I cannot even begin to wrap my brain around. It’s not infinity, it’s something else. Theoretically, the aleph has uploaded the Count’s personality leaving enough room to evolve with access to all data in the known universe.
Gibson’s idea of cyberspace involves direction (up and downs), grids, and definitively shaped objects. More than that though, he uses nothingness, everythingness, all-at-once-ness.
So how does one explain the unexplainable, the invisible, the not physically there presence? Gibson’s struggle continues to be technology’s struggle. VR and AI are upon us, and engineers have to develop vocabularies to go along with it. When all else fails, we fall upon what has gone before.
William Gibson wrote the framework, extrapolating to an existence which has yet to come. Twenty years ago, the Wachowski siblings gave us The Matrix trilogy which carried the idea of machine overlords enslaving humanity in virtual reality as an energy supply.
Here too, there’s a struggle with vocabulary, although visual media has the ability to present a form of cyberspace which can be seen and, therefore, believed. The Wachowskis and their matrix came 15 years after Neuromancer. Gibson was at the forefront, and is given credit for coining the term and pushing us to think about a computer network’s relationship with humans. The Wachowskis gave us one version of what that relationship might be. There are many other versions, and we can’t possibly know which one is “right,” or “wrong,” because we’re still trying to describe the invisible undescribable space between bits of data.
Title: Binti, Binti: Home & Binti: Night Masquerade
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Published: 2015, 2017 & 2017
ISBN-13: 9780765385253, 9780765393111, & 9780765393135
Publisher’s Blurb: Binti is a story about a brilliant young woman, and the responsibilities she bears: to her society, her family, and to herself. While travelling through space for the first time in her life, Binti must survive and adapt to an encounter with fascinating and deadly aliens.
“We Himba don’t travel. We stay put. Our ancestral land is life; move away from it and you diminish. We even cover our bodies with it. Otijize is red land.” (p. 13)
There’s no way anyone could prepare themselves for the times their self-identity bumps up against bigotry. This is one of the things I admire most about Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti Trilogy. In choosing the incidents which would populate Binti’s life, Okorafor chose to include the prejudices her traveler would encounter, both from outside and within herself.
It’s hard to write about this without cliches. Pain of all types makes us stronger, we hate when people say that to us, but there it is. The most incredible part of reading these books was the honesty with which Okorafor writes; of war, prejudice, outright hatred, ignorance, and fear. And that she managed to wrap it all up in 462 pages, while flinging us through the stars and back again is amazing to me.
I think what I want to say is no one is safe from prejudice or bigotry. It’s a part of the very fabric of being sentient (human). We are all different, we are all insecure about something and we all compare ourselves to others hoping to make ourselves feel better. This comparing and contrasting can make us even harder on ourselves for not having the life we imagine someone else has.
Binti is brilliant, and as self-aware as she can be at the age of 16. It’s frequently difficult to remember she is still a teenager, and lacks the maturity that only experience can proffer.
Along the way, she literally becomes a part of unlikely families. Some, like the Meduse, are another species altogether. Others, like the Desert People, turn out to have been family all along. They all play a part in her evolution, taking her on a journey which is more than just a university education. What she is taught along the way is she must be careful of her own prejudices, making sure they don’t keep her blind to the work she is destined for.
The story is almost magical, and nearly breathless, in some places. Nnedi Okorafor’s tight writing tells a big story which deals with complex issues. The character Binti studies the lessons we should all study. Learn to accept yourself, and others, as they are. Don’t force your set of rules onto someone else. Hesitate before you say or do something you’ll regret.
Most importantly, I think, is the lesson to face our fears and look deeply into the hard truths we don’t want to know. That way lies the harmony we all struggle to find.
This slender trilogy is a big story about an adolescent Himba girl who learns to stay grounded, fly among the rings of Saturn, fall in love, and forgive herself for the imagined pain she’s caused herself. Okorafor’s writing is splendid, and I’m looking forward to exploring her other books.
They by Janet Mason – Read The Art of Fiction by John Gardner ~ #LitCrit Darkness Visible by William Styron The Annotated Alice – annotated by Martin Gardner Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole – Read We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates