Lucky Universe (Lucky Marines Book 1) by Joshua James (book review).

‘Lucky Universe’ is the first in what is promised to be an 8 book military SF series. Books 2 and 3 are already available so the author, Joshua James, must be hard at work on the next one. So what’s it all about? The short answer is Lance Corporal `Lucky’ Lee Savage, a Frontier Marine of the Empire’s forces. He’s a soldier who’s survived every posting his officers have thrown at him. They don’t seem to like him very much even though his augmentation and equipment cost millions.

In this first book, Savage has been assigned to a unit tasked with going planet-side to see what’s happened to a team of Empire scientists. The planet happens to be a Union system so, by rights, the Empire shouldn’t be there and certainly not with a planet suppression force.

The opening sequence is interesting as it introduces us to Savage’s character and his environment. He’s learning about it, too, as he’s been in hypersleep since his last mission and has no idea where he is or what the mission is. The augmented Frontier Marines cost a lot of money so if they are not needed they are put into storage. The downside is they need to be thoroughly briefed on the mission on waking as they are woken at the last possible moment.

One of the augmentations the Frontier Marines receive is an artificial intelligence which the military call an Augmented Neural Network (ANN). With typical military thinking, the troops are ordered to call them Ann. Savage calls his `Rocky’ which is just typical as obeying orders isn’t something that comes naturally to him. The AI is interfaced directly to the soldier’s brain is a constant telepathic companion and may even outlive them. One of their functions is to receive information and then to make it available to the soldier’s brain.

Before chapter 1, `Wakey Wakey’, there is a fairly long prologue which gives you a strong hint that things are very odd on the planet. It’s a good indication that Savage’s mission is not going to go to plan. This wouldn’t be proper military SF if the first mission went to plan. Once they make it planet-side, things hot up and there’s a good demonstration of what an augmented Frontier Marine can do.

Apart from the military engagements, which are very good, there’s lots and I do mean lots of twists and turns in the plot. Nothing is quite as it seems, but all Savage has to go on is his mission briefing and anything Rocky can pick up from the networks. As they venture further and further into the mystery uncovered by the scientists, the body count starts to rack up. It doesn’t help that the Union forces were lying in wait and are not as technologically backwards as the Empire believed.

It’s difficult to discuss the plot without giving away spoilers and one of the things that marks this book out from other military SF novels is the twists and turns. Just when you think you have it figured out, the author throws another one in. In hindsight, you can see how it all links together and how it drove the characters. It results in a book which is going to be worth at least one re-read just to confirm your thoughts on the plot.

Lance Corporal `Lucky’ Lee Savage lives in a violent world which doesn’t really care for him as a person. He’s a bit like the family silver, brought out to impress someone and then stuffed back in the cupboard when the jobs done. They do have some nice tech to play with though. The Hammerhead flying suits are impressive with their detachment of combat drones. Another important feature is the nanobots floating around the soldier’s system. These can heal, repair and, within reason, re-grow damaged bits of the soldier’s anatomy.

I was impressed with ‘Lucky Universe’ as it has a well thought out plot with a surly main character and a lot of action. Just in case you aren’t tempted to gamble some loose change on the book without knowing more about the Lucky Marines, Joshua James has made available a free download of a prequel to ‘Lucky Universe’ titled ‘Luck Shot’. It goes someway to explaining his surly demeanour and includes the first couple of chapters of ‘Lucky Universe’. You can get it here:

I recommend you get them both as ‘Lucky Universe’ is a real bargain and ‘Lucky Shot’ is free. I’m due to review another book and then I’ll be straight back for number 2 in the ‘Lucky Marine’s series. That’s how much I liked it.

Andy Whitaker

April 2018

(pub: down7media LLC. 304 page ebook. Price: £ 2.12 (UK). ASIN: B078NFY7HB. Paper: £ 7.22 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-97673-967-5)

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I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties. My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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