Review of Rebellion by B.V. Larson

SFFaudio Review

rebellionRebellion (Star Force #3)
By B.V. Larson, Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours

Themes: / aliens / military sci-fi / fighting bugs / machines /

Publisher summary:

Rebellion is the turning point in the great interstellar war between all living creatures and the machines. Star Force is on the side of the machines – but for how long? In the third book of the Star Force series, Kyle Riggs learns just what kind of war Earth is caught up in. At the mercy of the Macros, his marines fight against new alien races, big and small. They battle the innocent and the vile alike, until their situation becomes grim.

Rebellion is the third novel in B. V. Larson’s Star Force series starring computer science professor turned interstellar marine Kyle Riggs. It stands on its own better than the previous novel, Extinction, but I would still recommend reading the previous books first as the plot throughout the series thus far has been mostly linear. In Rebellion, Larson takes his Star Force formula, throws in a couple new atomic grenades, and keeps blasting right along with the story of humanity’s fight against alien machines known as the Macros.

Given the title, it should come as no surprise that in this novel Kyle Riggs leads the battered remnants of his Star Force marines in a rebellion against their Macro masters. His reasons for this are many, but the decision point comes when he discovers that, while the Macros are scrupulous in abiding by the letter of their agreements, they have no compunction in their networked silica minds against taking advantage of every loophole in an agreement. In this case, they use Riggs’s nanotized marines to attack a race that had failed to include a prohibition against indirect assault using mercenaries in their peace treaty. Riggs concludes that the Macros will employ similar tactics against Earth and the near future and determines that it is better to restart the war now. On his own terms. With only five thousand men. With no way of alerting Earth.

Draw your own conclusions about Kyle Riggs’s big-picture tactical planning capabilities but, as in the previous novels, it is hard to fault his individual decisions in the heat of the moment. Indeed, I’m starting to wonder if Larson intends his hero to be an object lesson in the difficulty of making good choices under stress.

The structure of the Macro / Nano division continues to frustrate me. I’m beginning to accept that Nanos can not simply swarm a Macro and take it apart, though this acceptance is less for any logical reason than just because it continues to not happen, even though there are specific scenes of destroyed Macros being disassembled by Nanos and reprocessed. Perhaps my worst gripe along these lines for Rebellion is the revelation that Macro ships are difficult to pilot because the cockpits are built for pilots with seven arms. Now, I’ll accept that there is some sort of fundamental programming element that requires all Macros to be large, but when their entire command structure is built on networked parallel processing, why aren’t the ships just built into that network? There is simply no reason for the Macros to have physical ship controls, any more than there is a need for their ships to have pressurized compartments.

All complaints aside, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Rebellion features more, and far more interesting, revelations about the Star Force universe than its predecessor. The best of these are the emergence of a new machine intelligence and Sandra finally coming into her own as a character. This new intelligence starts off as little more than another of the nanobot “brain boxes” that Riggs uses in every aspect of his military. Riggs names the over-achieving brain box Marvin, in what I can only hope is an unacknowledged tip of the hat to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the interactions between Marvin and the human characters are probably the best part of this novel. As for Sandra, she spends half the novel in a coma, then wakes up just in time to reprise her roll as Riggs’s shallow, hot-tempered girlfriend. Literally her first action after waking up is to punch another woman for kissing Riggs in a moment of desperation. Fortunately, Sandra seems to blow most of her daft behavior allocation in that first moment as, with the help of some sentient microbes who have been tortured into assisting Starforce, she quickly evolves into a strong, self-motivated character.

Development of characters other than Kyle Riggs has been a weakness for this series from the beginning, and Rebellion does little to change this. Other than the introduction of Marvin and the growth in Sandra, the only supporting characters to see a change are Jasmine, who develops a crush on Riggs, and Kwan, who gets a girlfriend and learns a few new English idioms. But you don’t read Star Force novels for character development or fully coherent plot. If you are a fan of fast-paced science fiction featuring liberal quantities of bloody, laser-scorched human versus robot combat, Rebellion will quench your thirst for action.

The audiobook narrated by Mark Boyett has the usual quality of production and performance. Three books into the series, I do have to admit that I am starting to get annoyed by the accents of characters other than Kyle Riggs, as it seems that any human character who merits a name also has an accent. Mark Boyett does a fine job with his reading, and I do appreciate that B. V. Larson is attempting to show the global nature of Star Force, but the continual shifting of accents and genders from a single male reader grows tiresome after about six hours.

Posted by Andrew Linke

Review of Swarm by B. V. Larson

SFFaudio Review

Swarm Swarm (Star Force #1)
By B. V. Larson; Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours

Themes: / aliens / military sci-fi /

Publisher summary:

Earth arms marines with alien technology and builds its first battle fleet! Kyle Riggs is snatched by an alien spacecraft sometime after midnight. The ship is testing everyone it catches and murdering the weak. The good news is that Kyle keeps passing tests and staying alive. The bad news is the aliens who sent this ship are the nicest ones out there…. A novel of military science fiction by bestselling author B. V. Larson, Swarm is the story of Earth’s annexation by an alien empire. Long considered a primitive people on a backwater planet, humanity finds itself in the middle of a war, and faced with extinction.

One of the fundamental challenges of writing fiction is the need to make characters and events believable without making them boring, or retreading the same ground as a dozen authors before you. This is especially difficult in genre fiction, such as military sci-fi, where so many wildly imaginative authors have already gone before. Fortunately, B. V. Larson walks the line between realism and action with near perfect balance. Swarm, the first book in his Star Force series, contains little in the way of truly original science fiction material, but the author assembles these familiar pieces into a fantastic roller coaster of a tale.

Our protagonist is Kyle Riggs, who proves to be one of the most resourceful computer science professors in history. When alien machines invade earth he goes from being a mild-mannered single father, eating popcorn and watching movies with his kids, to a hard-hearted military commander in the course of about two weeks. By the end of the novel he is commanding full battalions of augmented marines, guiding the development of devastating weapons, and fighting toe to toe with robots the size of skyscrapers. It is a testament to the author’s skill at narration that all of these remarkable events happening to a single character only seems odd in retrospect. As the tale unfolds, each of Kyle’s actions and decisions makes sense in the moment, if not in the big picture, painting him as an everyman who is continually pulled into extraordinary circumstances.

The only real problem with Swarm is the nature of the threat that humanity faces. Essentially, the entire planet is placed at the center of a struggle between microscopic robots, which are obviously named Nanos, since they don’t have a name for themselves, and gigantic robots, which are immediately dubbed Macros. It doesn’t take long before the action of the novel descends into the most visceral, mindless sort of fights that we have seen before in countless robots versus humans films. I won’t deny that all of that is fun to read, but I couldn’t help wondering why the Nanos didn’t just build some big robots to blow up the Macros, or the Macros build some macroscopic robots and start turning everything they touched into grey goo. Or why the Nanos didn’t just infest the Macros and take them apart. Or why the Macros didn’t start strip mining the entire planet from beneath the safety of their shields, instead of fighting humanity in the field.

But that’s a debate for another time. It doesn’t matter whether the two strangely, intractably, even inexplicably different robots behave appropriately any more than it matters how an alien can have a silicon-based biology and acid for blood. I suppose we can also overlook, for this book at least, the rapid changes in Kyle’s character, the incredulous, borderline Stockholm Syndrome, relationship between Kyle and his girlfriend Sandra, and the sudden, mildly disappointing ending. What matters is that B. V. Larson uses all of these pieces to tell a fun story. I just hope to see some more character development as the series continues.

The audiobook of Swarm is produced by Audible, published on CD by Brilliance Audio, and as a whole meets the usual quality I expect from these companies. Each disc begins and ends with brief musical backgrounds which, while they do little to enhance the story, are not distracting. The last few sentences, about five to fifteen seconds, of each disc are repeated at the beginning of the next disc, which is a feature I always appreciate to draw me back into the story after pausing to change discs. Mark Boyett’s skillful narration perfectly portrays the voice of Kyle Riggs, whether he is calmly describing the procedures for programming an alien computer, or speaking in a panicked, but still clear, tone to convey the terror of facing an alien machine on the battlefield.

Posted by Andrew Linke