RogerBW's Blog

Going Grey, Karen Traviss 09 May 2017

2014 military SF, first of a series. Ian Dunlop thinks he might be going mad, but he's the product of an illegal experiment. That secret has been well kept for years, but now it's getting out.

This is a military SF story with very little military action or SF in it. Ian has certain abilities because of his background as a genetic experiment, but that's as far as the science fiction goes. And what action there is is small-scale and mostly outside a military context. On the other hand, this is a story which delves deeply into – I can't call it the military mindset exactly, but the mindset of people who fit best in the military.

Rob was a Royal Marine until he got made redundant before his pension date; he split from his wife some years ago but still does his best for his son. Mike is the scion of a super-rich American family who's picked up a strong sense of duty, and enlisted in the National Guard to serve overseas. For the body of the book they're both ex-soldiers, doing their best as "security contractors" to rebuild what they had when they were in. Meanwhile, Ian has been brought up in isolation by someone who had strong feelings about what a man should be like, and there's a strong element of doing one's duty in there, even if he's never going to be able to join a proper army.

The story moves between all three of them, and pleasingly inverts the usual stereotype of the reluctant hero: these people are all eager to do something, the right thing, but aren't at all clear what the right thing might be.

The secondary characters are interesting too: Dru Lloyd, the slightly obsessive-compulsive HR type who's following up tantalising threads from the past that might point to Ian's existence… for the benefit of the bad guys, though the bad guys happen to be her employer. Mike's wife Livvie, uncomplainingly going through multiple rounds of IVF treatment and sitting at home while Mike does the security contractor thing, but ready for a change. Charles Kinnery, who did the original research and still isn't quite clear on how he got it right, but would love to continue the work.

Everybody here is people, and that's a rarity anywhere but especially in work labelled as mil-SF… but very often a sign of the good stuff. This is far more a story about family, particularly the family you make, than it is about things that go bang and crump.

Yeah, all right, all the women are relatively secondary characters and there's nobody important here who's other than pearly white of skin. But it still works.

Recommended by Dr Bob. Followed by Black Run.

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