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War in Heaven
Gavin Smith
Gollancz, 513 pages

War in Heaven
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
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Veteran
SF Site Review: Veteran

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'I'd taken worse beatings but it was pretty extensive. When they got tired of bruising fists and feet on subcutaneous armour they started to use sticks.'
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War in Heaven is the sequel to Veteran, and includes a few pages to explain what has gone before, then it's back down the rabbit hole that is Gavin Smith's plot. Veteran was a moody shooter's paradise, boasting an attitude like a Rottweiler with toothache. The follow up continues right where things left off, and maintains the style. Yes, there are some moments of humour, but these are slight and of an acquired taste. Smith's technique is to keep hurling material at the reader, trebuchet style, never letting up. It's certainly immersive, and includes numerous Bladerunner/Asimov on crack visions as the main protagonist and crew travel out across the universe. The future is dark as a black cat trapped in a coal cellar, scratchy yowling and liable to draw literary blood.

There is a story here and there are interesting characters, but both tend to get submerged under the relentless torrent of brutal, bloody violence. Gavin Smith may be trying to encourage his readers to see past this parade of schlock military set pieces, but I found the chase fight chase again sequences to be hard going. War in the digital world is an intriguing concept, and the Demiurge AI versus the bio-engineered 'God' from the first novel has bags of potential. But, the finer points and subtler concepts all come with what feels like a gun to the head, and as a result are less enjoyable than they could have been. Former special forces soldier Jakob Douglas, and his band of self-styled freedom fighters have battled their way into a position where dark secrets are exposed and the powers that be are enraged. Along with the religiously inclined portion of humanity, who aren't best pleased with the concept of a software God. While the intentions of Jakob and company may be for the greater good, winning friends proves much harder than influencing people. War in Heaven is as much about the counter-attack from the old guard as it is about progress for Smith's anti-hero posse, and this includes a handful of thinking man's plot twists. The problem here is that when the author decides it's time for exposition and introspection it comes across as shoe-gazing, where the main characters talk the plot and rarely reveal much of serious interest. As with Veteran, the style of War in Heaven feels like reading a first person shoot-em up, with dollops of ideas intended to make readers think. Ideas which, regardless of their merit, barely have time to flower in the mind's eye before the next wedge of violence hits home.

Those who find the sheer pace of Smith's work to be numbing, but still like the cut of his jib, may be relieved to learn that War in Heaven is the definitive conclusion to this tale. The all-action cyborg blood baths and AI carnage will tickle the right spots for some, while others may find them stifling and repetitive. As a sequel it equals the first novel, when judged on its own terms. What it does not do is address the issues of pacing and action fatigue which bedeviled Veteran. Indeed, War in Heaven continues the trend, and makes no apologies for that choice. As a rounded novel the book stumbles as if punched in the head, and almost fails, but if the author's main intent was to deliver more than the average bang for a buck, then he succeeds spectacularly.

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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