Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bolo Brigade, by William H. Keith Jr.

This week I've returned to my perennial favorite series, the Bolos, with a full-length novel Bolo Brigade. When I initially began this series I sought to read it in chronological order. However, in the helpful guide of books located on Wikipedia I only recently noticed that the full-length Bolo novels were published concurrently with many of the Bolo short story anthologies, which I've already reviewed. However, I'm very happy to be going into the full-length novels and look forward to the opportunities provided by additional space.

This particular book deals with an area of space out on the galactic rim that is independent of the Concordiat of Man, but still strongly affiliated and protected by ancient Bolos against the remote possibility of a threat. Of course, we know that since the focus of the book is on this particular galactic backwater, the Bolos are going to have to save the day. In this case a race known as the Malach, very similar to raptor-like dinosaurs in many respects, have invaded the human worlds. The humans are no match for the hunter-warriors of the Malach, and some of the Bolos are simply insufficient as well. But hope lies in Freddy and Ferdy, two ancient (and perhaps most importantly self-aware) Mark XXIV Bolos, defenders of the sector's capital.

If you asked me my opinion on this particular book, I'd say it's okay. I wouldn't say it's going to win any awards, but it's a worthwhile contribution to the Bolo canon. As I've said before with other books, you usually go into Bolo books expecting some crazy awesome tank goodness and the book seldom fail to deliver on that promise. It's probably not going to change the world, but sometimes it's fun to kick back and read some pulp adventures. And honestly it has a giant tank on the cover, what did you expect? I will say that the Bolo books in the past have been able to raise the question of what makes someone, or something, human, and while this book sort of touches on that, it doesn't go into terribly great detail, focusing instead on the pulp action.

I will say that the book sort of makes an attempt to contrast the Malach and their societal values with human values, which are definitely alien to say the least. I do wonder if it was entirely fair for humans to judge Malach by human values, simply because the Malach are so alien. But at the same time, when people are determined to kill all of you and take all your land and resources, you kind of want to focus on killing them right back and morality can be damned. The book also does work in people who want to make peace with the Malach, assuming that they can be reasoned with as you would with other humans and a peaceful resolution to the current conflict can be achieved. I will admit that this peace faction comes across as little more than straw men because we know that the Malach terms, if the Malach bothered to offer them, would be completely unacceptable to any humans. So it sort of turns out the military people are right, but it doesn't feel terribly heavy-handed in this instance. I will also say it was kind of funny to find another species that is expanding from a solitary world and simply cannot believe that humanity is in control of more than a handful of planets. Although the Concordiat's resources aren't brought to bear in this novel, it definitely leaves the Malach in for a very rude awakening when a true Bolo Brigade arrives in the sector.

Simply put if you like Bolos, you'll like this book, and if you're new to Bolos then this book is also a good choice. (Although you might not catch all the references.) Definitely worth the read if you want some sci-fi action.

- Kalpar

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