RogerBW's Blog

Shadow Ops: Control Point, Myke Cole 30 July 2015

2012 modern fantasy. For a few years, people have been manifesting magical powers; in the US, the military has taken control of it all. Some powers are allowed, some aren't. Oscar Britton, Army helicopter pilot, is about to develop one of the ones that isn't.

This is a strange book. It tries very hard to give the impression that it's going to be the urban fantasy equivalent of military SF: one guy learning to be part of a team, solo magicians called "Selfers" because the only two options are to be part of the Army or to think only of yourself, the endlessly-repeated line "skill beats will, every time", and people who say things like:

"I've killed a lot of people, Oscar. I sleep like a baby. Do you know why?"

Britton didn't answer.

"I sleep at night because, unlike you, every life I take is authorized."

And yet, as it turns out, this entire book is simply setup for Our Hero breaking freeā€¦ well, not of the Army mindset, but more taking the approach that if there are bad guys in the ranks above him he's just going to have to found his own damn Army. So it's not quite the Rah Rah 'Murica that the first half led me to expect, which I guess is something.

"This country was founded on breaking a law. Sometimes laws don't get the job done. Sometimes it takes brave people to do that."

At least, since the military has monopolised all magic in the US, there's not too much need for building a world where magic has transformed society. China is said to be using magic wholesale, though curiously it hasn't bothered to take over anywhere else, and Europe has mysteriously become an Islamic state where all magic is banned. (Is Cole trying to wave a flag for European "population bomb" racists, or does he genuinely think such a thing is plausible? I have no idea.)

Anyway, there's lots and lots of fighting, death, and bloody dismemberment. Everyone in this book has taken the Stupid Pills, most definitely including our hero. A minor sympathetic character turns out to be a bad guy just because, our hero's leaders repeatedly emphasise that he's just an expendable tool to them and thus drive him to rebellion, he repeatedly panics and causes casual death and destruction as a result, and he falls "in love" with someone entirely on the basis that she's beautiful. She has no personality other than not liking the nasty magic she did once, but then again neither does he. Characterisation is pretty minimal all over, with the women coming off particularly badly (sexy noble healer, sociopathic femme fatale, ingenue with schoolgirl crush, and that's the entire female cast).

"Working for the SOC is like working for anyone. It's like our system of government. For all its flaws, it tries to do good. Sometimes, it succeeds."

And sometimes it leaves a pile of bodies in its wake because it couldn't be bothered to take ten seconds for a reality check ("will this plausibly help us achieve any of our objectives") before setting off the magical superweapon.

The idea of writing about how the US military structure would respond if it were handed control over magic is an interesting one, and Cole clearly knows a lot about being on the grinding end of military bureaucracy; and many people love these books, but I really didn't find them even slightly appealing. Nasty people do nasty things to other nasty people for nasty reasons, and the supposed protagonist is just a blank playing-piece to carry the camera as we go on a tour of the world. Followed by Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier.

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 04:45pm on 30 July 2015

    I found the main character to be a whiny idiot, but enjoyed a lot of the book, because of the veracity of the details.

    I suspect that Myke isn't a one of those people waving a flag for the Islamic population bomb, at least when I was speaking to him he came across far more left of center.

    I imagine this is one of those American things of being unable to really understand anything happening outside of America e.g: Ian Douglas using the UN as the big bad. Islam is the big bad du jour, and having Britain and Europe fall to them would allow America to come to the rescue. Think WW 1 & 2 as a trope.

  2. Posted by John Dallman at 11:05am on 31 July 2015

    I've also seen Americans who appear to believe that large numbers of Europeans are converting to Islam. While the number is non-zero, it isn't any kind of mass movement either.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 11:07am on 31 July 2015

    Thanks both. It seemed out of kilter with the rest of the book, which while it's very unpleasant in places isn't noticeably racist.

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