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Hell's Faire
John Ringo
Baen Books, 439 pages

Hell's Faire
John Ringo
John Ringo had visited 23 countries and attended 14 schools by the time he graduated high school. This left him with an appreciation of the oneness of humanity and a permanent aversion to foreign food. He chose to study marine biology. Now he manages a quality control database.

John Ringo Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Ernest Lilley

Not with a whimper, but with a bang... that's how John Ringo's Posleen War tetrology ends. Many bangs, in fact. Big bangs, little bangs, even bangs that topple rocks. Not that that's a surprise to anyone who likes military SF, or has read the other books in the series: A Hymn Before Battle, Gust Front, When the Devil Dances, and now: Hell's Faire.

It's a genre where everything complex is reduced to the simplest terms. Survive or be wiped off the face of the galaxy... Live or Die, Us or Them. The enemy doesn't even bleed red, so killing them (by the thousands) doesn't even make for a blip on the moral radar screen. Ironically, it's also a genre that's restful for anyone who reads a lot of Big Question SF. Sometimes it's a relief not to have to figure out what to do between now and the heat death of the universe, when the origin of consciousness was, or whether being uploaded into a computer counts as being alive. I still have to figure that out, but just for today, I'm more than happy to let the defense of humankind, boiled down to one battle for an Appalachian mountain pass, take on galactic proportions.

It certainly does for Major Mike O'Neal and the First Battalion 555 powered-suit warriors dug in at the Raburn Gap with orders to hold until relieved and the thousands of aliens throwing themselves on their rapidly dwindling stream of depleted uranium slugs. If the Posleen break through, they'll lay waste to humanity's last industrial stronghold, the American heartland. And that fellow earthlings, will be that.

Three books ago mankind was co-opted into a galactic war against the Posleen. It wasn't our war, yet, but they were heading this way, and the old guard galactic races were just too tame and used to settling things through diplomatic means to keep from getting mowed down.

Our recruiters, the Darhel, had never been crazy about releasing the wild wolfling humans on the galaxy, but maybe if they managed things right we'd get used up in the firefight. So they gave us some gal-tech to add to our war craft and tossed us into harm's way.

The action in Hell's Faire proceeds on several fronts. The 555 is dug in and short on the power it needs for its weapons, and the enemy is rapidly piling up at their feet... but we're not pulling back and they're not slowing down. On a small farm a few miles away, a young girl is growing up -- fast. That would be Cally O'Neal, Mike's 14-year-old daughter. It's the luck of the draw that what may be his last stand is just a stone's throw from where he grew up, and where he cached his daughter and his own father for the duration.

Since the war went nuclear (and let's all pronounce that new-clear, shall we?), Mike's family farmland has gotten torn up, his dad trapped under a falling blockhouse and so pretty safely presumed dead, feral aliens, that is, ones that have lost their god-king-leaders, are roaming the land hungry and it's just no fun for the whole family.

Of course, if anyone can take care of themselves, it would be an O'Neal. And if anyone can turn things around... we'll, I don't feel sorry for the aliens... they picked this fight.

Fans of tank warfare and Keith Laumer's Bolo stories will love the cavalry that's coming to the rescue as its main element is a really, really big tank. The SheVa is an armored gun platform packing a battleship-sized gun loaded with hypervelocity rounds ranging from 8-800 kilotons in explosive force. Though the only one within striking distance has just gone through a painful and costly retreat, and is consequentially pretty broke, it's the only asset that can get in and lay waste to the alien horde... if a massive effort can get it up, running, and into the fray before the 555 is overrun.

As if that wasn't enough fun, we've got the humanity's worst infantry division trying to reach our boys to help, but with a freshly installed general they might actually turn into an effective fighting force with some serious on the job training. Somewhere in the background scientists are still cranking out experimental (read untested) weapons to bring into play, and oh yes... it looks like our gal-tech artificial intelligence/comm net has been compromised by the invaders. It's just fun, fun, fun for everyone at Hell's Faire.

Originally, the author notes, this was supposed to be a trilogy, but before he could finish book three, When The Devil Dances, he got sidetracked by the events of 9/11 and fell off the writing wagon. A former member of the 82nd Airborne, I can imagine his feelings of frustration, which manifested itself as a pass that would not yield to frontal assault. Like the 555, he had to dig in and wait, but I'm not sorry for the result. These have been great books and getting one more in the end works for me.

As a military SF author, Ringo does a great job of describing combat, though the escalation of the intensity of fighting over the books tends to move it beyond a human scale. There are plenty of heroic, and a few cowardly, characters to help us connect with the story though, and they're easy to like or hate. Like many classic SF authors, Ringo often falls in love with his gadgets and drifts occasionally into exposition. Personally, I find this to be more of a feature than a bug, enjoying his discussions of how one might use "buckyballs" to trap anti-matter particles and the development of high energy weapons. It's fun, and it's educational. Just don't try it at home.

From a military standpoint, the biggest suspension of disbelief isn't needed for the super-weapons, as they're all rooted in current technology, if carried a bit to extremes. But that, like Robert A. Heinlein in Starship Troopers, the author is writing about ground wars in a time when doctrine demands sky and space superiority. A little air support would have gone a long way here, or even some look-down and interdiction from orbital laser platforms. While I'm sure the author could explain away their lack in terms of the story... I'm even surer it comes from his infantry background. Still, military fiction is best served at point blank range.

Like the characters in his story, John Ringo could use some time away from the fighting, so he says he'll be writing some other kinds of stories for a bit, ones where good and bad are shown in finer shades of gray. I'm sure he can do it, and that this story universe, when he does get back to it, will be all the better for it, but for now the best ticket around is one to Hell's Faire.

Copyright © 2003 Ernest Lilley

Ernest Lilley is the Editor and Publisher of SFRevu, a monthly 'zine for science fiction reviews, news and interviews. It can be found at

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