Friday, December 26, 2008

40 Years

40 Years by Bernd Struben
(Strider Nolan Publishing, Inc. / 1-932-04502-3 / 978-1-932-04502-4 / December 2008 / 200 pages / $9.95)

Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

When Captain Brink D’Mar awakes from his induced sleep in a cryogenic chamber, he finds exactly what he expects waiting for him: a world to conquer. D’Mar is a genetically enhanced soldier called an ACP (Augmented Combat Personnel). Born without parents, raised without families, educated and trained solely for the purpose of war, D’Mar’s battalion serves humanity’s cause in the Great Race for Space against the powerful, insect-like Pfrlanx. In an effort to claim as many habitable worlds as the growing human population needs, the ACP Battalion forges ahead of more conventional spacefarers to clear the way for human occupation. In this case, “clear the way” means conquering any indigenous populations and relocating them to remote corners of their own planets while humans grab up the most desirable property and begin to breed like rabbits.

D’Mar was not supposed to have a conscience, but he does. He finds comfort believing that subjugation by humans is a preferable fate for the aliens than allowing the Pfrlanx to claim the planet first. The insectoid race never bothers to subdue native populations, preferring to annihilate them from orbit. D’Mar says, “Even when I order the deaths of a million alien combatants, I can sleep at night knowing I’ve saved the lives of a billion others.” D’Mar’s men spend decades sleeping away the time between battles in cryogenic chambers. They wake, fight for a few days, subdue an alien race, and then return to their “coffins” to dreamlessly sleep away the journey to the next planet.

Until, that is, they reach the planet that humans have named “New Columbia” – a planet 40 years beyond the last outpost of humankind, a planet populated by a harmless-looking race called the Borrells. It is on this planet that D’Mar will face a brutal war against an enemy he cannot help but admire. “Surrender” is not a word known to the Borrells, but no other option has ever been given to an alien race by humans. D’Mar finds himself questioning his own choices, and he cannot help but remember that he is 40 years removed from any human reinforcement … or any retribution.

For the most part, 40 Years is a smooth read. Its greatest weakness may be its brevity, which does not allow for extensive character development. However, it can be argued that, since character is generally a product of family, upbringing, and experiences, these bio-engineered humans who sleep away years in between battles have never been permitted to develop much character. Their very shallowness is a function of who they are and who they will continue to be, unless a drastic change takes place. Change is inevitable – and hinted at perhaps too soon, in the first chapter. Thus, I was able to predict the ending early on, but I enjoyed the path to getting there. This is a promising new author with much to offer. I look forward to his future endeavors.

See Also: Dianne's B&N Review
The High Spirits Review
The Publisher's Website

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