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Veteran
Gavin Smith
Gollancz, 439 pages

Veteran
Gavin Smith
Gavin Smith was born in Dundee in the same year that Iron Butterfly recorded "Inna-Gadda-da-Vida." He has also lived in Camberley, Hayling Island, Portsmouth, Hull, Leamington Spa and is currently living a near feral existence in Leicester. He has a degree in writing for film and a Masters in medieval history. Veteran is his first novel.

Gavin Smith Website
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SF Site Review: Veteran

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A review by Nathan Brazil

'It wasn't going to be a gunfight and I'd taken a battering in the Avenues. There were still a lot of warning icons on my internal visual display. I'd patched myself up with what little I had and my internal repair mechanisms were doing the best they could but I was a broken machine.'
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Veteran is one of those books that either hits the spot or misses completely. There is no black and white in terms of its style, although it does buck the trend a little more, getting from beginning to end. The premise is a veteran military special forces operative, forced out of retirement to track down an alien killing machine. An infiltrator of the same type wiped out his entire squad, back in the day. Now, it's loose in his home town. Except, things aren't quite the way they seem. Indeed, it would be quite hum-drum if they were. Jakob Douglas, the ex-special forces operative, soon finds himself reactivated, both in terms of being on duty and his deactivated internal special weapons becoming available again. Such things are normally powered down in retired personnel, as the authorities don't think it's a good idea to have people walking around with enough weapons to take out a small district! Direct authority comes in the form of Major George Rolleston, and his enforcer, known as the Grey Lady. Douglas is forced back into action, and sent on a mission to find what is believed to be an alien infiltrator, crash landed near Dundee, Scotland.

The style of writing employed by Gavin Smith is first person, action-oriented, future kick-ass and to hell with the subtleties. From very early on, his all-action hero is involved in ultra violence at a level which makes Jack Bauer look like a Brownie. Fans of smash and grab techno-action will love the sprawling battle scenes, tumbling one over another with hardly time to catch breath. Squeezed in among this is the plot, which reveals the alien -- and its entire species, known only as Them -- may not be quite as has been represented; a relentless foe that kills humans as soon as it sees them, wiping out men, women and children, entire communities without a shred of mercy. A foe that humanity has been at war with, out in space, for over 60 years. The first inkling that the official line might not be entirely correct, comes when we encounter Ambassador, the landed alien, who is anything but a killing machine. Soon, Douglas has a sidekick in the form of Morag, a teenage ex-prostitute whom we discover has a natural affinity with AI and virtual world technology. From that point, the story becomes a chase, with Douglas and Morag, carrying Ambassador, on the run from Rolleston and meeting up along the way with several of Douglas's old military contacts. These are people who have diversified into vaguely civilian life. Among them are a leading journalist seeking to release the truth about the unending war with Them, a practitioner of quasi-religious virtual world development interested in using Ambassador to build God, and another ex-special forces operative who has had himself literally reshaped into something like a sea devil.

Veteran is a wild ride, but for me the torrential action detracted from the more interesting ideas of the premise. I felt action fatigue while reading this, and often wanted the book to slow down for a chapter or two, in order to explore the deeper meanings that had been teased. But, that is not the kind of book Gavin Smith chose to write, and so the ultra-violence continued, page after page, until I felt like I was reading some kind of shoot-em-up game script. Ultimately, the more interesting ideas -- at least for me -- got drowned under the tsunami of action, and in so doing made that action and its final result less meaningful. I was also disappointed that the Grey Lady, touted as being the ultimate enforcer/assassin, never really emerged to do much, or felt like the threat that was implied. The ending, balanced on a knife-edge as it was, pretty much requires readers who have invested the time to buy the next book. Obviously, for anyone really caught up in the thrills and spills, this is not a problem, and if fans of the various shoot first games can drop their keypads long enough to pick up a paperback, Veteran may well be the best literary equivalent.

Copyright © 2012 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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