RogerBW's Blog

Grunt Life, Weston Ochse 20 September 2020

2014 military SF, first of a trilogy. Ben Mason tried to kill himself when the PTSD got too much for him… but instead, They recruited him to go up against an alien invasion that most of humanity doesn't even know about.

And Ochse does at least realise that if you're recruiting your soldiers from suicidal and otherwise broken people you're going to have a lot of work to do to make them back into functioning grunts. That bit is moderately interesting, and certainly an improvement on the generic mil-sf boot camp, even if it's been done much better since by The Light Brigade. But then the aliens arrive in force and smash civilisation, and only one brave PMC is able to fight back…

During the rebuilding process we get lots of name-checks of other mil-SF authors. An author needs a lot of confidence to do this, because on the one hand it's a good signal of "yeah I've read this stuff too", but on the other they always risk reminding the reader that they could be reading those better books instead.

It turns out that school shootings are the result of Alien Influence (even though the scouting phase is meant to be world-wide) which lets Ochse talk about

the capriciousness of a universe that would allow a lone gunman to walk into the school and kill so many innocent children. That this same crime had been replicated in different states over the years made it beyond tragic. It should have been stopped. Some wanted to arm the teachers. Some wanted to post guards at every school. Some wanted to pull their children out and home school them. The only thing everyone could agree on was that they were sure it wouldn't happen to their children.

Is there a possible means of stopping school shootings missing from that list? One that's used in some form by basically every country in the world that isn't the USA? Hmm, I dunno, let me think.

I did find myself wondering where They are getting all this stuff from. This is a private company; they say they offered assistance to national governments, but they weren't prepared to pay enough, so now they're demanding mineral rights and so on in return for saving the world, and after they've fought off the invasion the company will take over (yay capitalism I guess). And yet they've devised powered-armour suits and built thousands of the things; they have apparently unlimited quantities of ammunition and other military hardware…

The aliens have effortlessly crushed Earth's military (off-page) because they constantly emit EMPs, and normal hardening just isn't up to the job. Ochse has some very strange ideas about how EMPs work, but more than that, he has to have his powered-armour troopers able to talk to each other. The answer: ELF through the ground, via boot studs. "But Roger", you ask, "weren't real ELF transmitters many miles long? And even if they could make that work, doesn't Nyquist say that the data rate of a transmission is fundamentally constrained by the frequency?" Oh, that's all right, they have "advanced digital modulation techniques".

And there's a mention of the suits carring "thirty anti-aircraft missiles resting in a left shoulder array". This is called a "Mini-Hydra", and you'd hope so, since thirty actual Hydra 70 FFARs would weigh somewhere between 250 and 500 lb and they're already carrying an XM214 minigun and 1500 rounds for it. (You can shield against EMP if it's important enough. A GShG-7.62, which is purely gas operated, would seem like a better choice, but of course that's a commie gun.) Still, Hydras only have about a 2lb warhead in the original size, so one starts to wonder what the point would be of a smaller one. My guess: Ochse has watched Fang of the Sun: Dougram (or played BattleTech from before 1996) and wants that great big drum on the shoulder of his powered armour like the ones on the Roundfacer (Griffin) and Ironfoot (Thunderbolt).

The B plot could mostly be summed up as

"I'm not going to help you get into her pants. She's even more broken than the rest of us."

but in the end, and in spite of Ochse's best efforts to persuade the reader that the bonds forged in battle are the most intense human relationship and that this is a good thing even if seeing your battle buddies die ultimately turns you suicidal, everything comes down to the "dick-swinging big strong man saves the world on his own when everyone else has failed" fantasy that one would expect to find in modern Baen's barrel-scrapings but is slightly surprised to see from a more reputable publisher. (All right, it was Solaris, an offshoot of Black Library which was itself founded to put out non-game Warhammer stuff, but they do publish Silvia Moreno-Garcia as well as Simon R. Green.)

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  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 12:19pm on 20 September 2020

    I quite liked this (though not so keen on the sequel). The PTSD stuff at the start has a real emotional punch.

    I am kind of anticipating the skeevy corporate guys will turn out to be in league with the aliens or knew they were coming or something.

    Being a biologist, I assumed the studs in boots was mimicking elephant infrasound communication, which has been detected several km away. IIRC elephants have only been confirmed to react to it 4km away, but the theory says they may be able to detect it 10km away. That's long range enough for the power-armoured guys, surely?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 12:42pm on 20 September 2020

    Yeah, the opening chapters were the best bit for me; when it came to fighting the aliens it felt as though it were getting back into the standard not-terribly-good milsf groove.

    What's the bandwidth like? Wiki says elephant infrasound is 15-35Hz, which you could compress real-time voice into but it wouldn't sound a lot like voice afterwards. (For the benefit of those who may not know: this is why historical ELF, to submarines at sea, was basically used to send a three-character password which meant "surface now and point your antenna at a satellite for the actual message". Even that took a while.)

  3. Posted by Chris Suslowicz at 02:10pm on 20 September 2020

    Before satellites (and even now, when staying submerged) ELF was/is used for longer messages. (Though Criggion used to dim the lights in the local pub when transmitting - mainly test messages, I suspect, and all as 5-letter groups).

    VLF traffic is now sent from Anthorn (along with the 60kHz time and frequency service that used to be sent by Rugby) and Skelton in Cumbria.

    (per Wikipedia the data rate was 45.5 baud and has since been increased to 50 baud - implying that it's a teleprinter link.)


  4. Posted by John P at 05:31pm on 20 September 2020

    Sounds a bit like Gust Front by John Ringo, which I'm reading at the moment. Although it does feel like some one is shouting "America! Hell, yeah!" in your ear every few pages it isn't too bad. Mind you, I'm just taking it as it comes, rather than trying to reality check it in any way.

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 07:20pm on 20 September 2020

    Well, Ringo clearly believed the marketing from Mike O'Dwyer of MetalStorm, but then so did the Pentagon until he utterly failed to deliver. :)

  6. Posted by J Michael Cule at 07:36pm on 20 September 2020

    This is the first one of your reviews in a while that hasn't caused me to at least go and have a look at the book. Well done!

    'Elephant Bandwith' is the name of my prog rock group.

  7. Posted by Dr Bob at 06:45pm on 21 September 2020

    I think you'd have to ask an actual elephant what its bandwidth is like. They mix infrasound and audible calls together, I don't think they do either/or. The infrasound message may not ever get more complicated than "I'm female X from Herd Y and I want to mate/say hello to my relatives/inform the world that I am peeved".

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