‘Wings Of Hell’ is the thirteenth novel in the ‘Starfist’ series of military Science Fiction series. It’s the first one I have read so I’m coming to the series like a new, green recruit. The premise for this book as set out on the back cover says the human settled planet Haulover has been invaded by Skinks. The Confederation has no choice but to mount a military campaign against these aliens who are bent on human destruction. Just to make things a bit more interesting the current president of the confederation is up for re-election and it looks like it will be a very close race.
Personally, I’m glad that they were kind enough to put the information on the back of the book because for the first 120 pages not very much happens. There’s quite a lot of mundane shuffling about of the military with appointments, honours, a discharge and a brawl in a brothel. President Chang-Sturdevant’s chief rival is revealed and we get to meet the Marines of the Thirty-Fourth FIST (Fleet Initial Strike Team). The only shot fired was by an old woman trying to scare off a trio of locals who were up to no good. We are a third of the way into the book now and I was expecting a bit of action or a build-up of the tension before something does finally happen.
Things do kick off when the military finally lands on the planet Haulover but this just serves to highlight the weakness in the story. Put simply, there are far too many characters. They are always introduced with their full military title and full name and many of them only make brief appearances never to be heard of again. For example Major General Donnie (‘Doc’) McKillan, XVIII Corps Chief of Staff enters and exits the story in just over a page. There’s an overload of extraneous information which makes reading a bit of a chore. Even the military forces individual units and sub-units are named. The narrative jumps from senior officers to the privates to mid-level officers and then off to the two other story threads. The Thirty-Fourth FIST does get more of the narrative than most but with such a big cast it’s not nearly enough to make you engage with them.
Having read quite a few SF books, I’d have to say that the Skinks as depicted in ‘Wings Of Hell’ are getting close to the worst aliens I’ve come across. Their military society seems to have been modelled on an extreme version of Japan’s WWII stereotype as depicted by western culture. Not only do they regularly kill their own officers but they seem to be very, very sensitive the Marines rifles. One hit and they vaporise. They also don’t seem to have any grasp of military strategy or tactics. This raises the point of what was the purpose of the invasion in the first place? The opening chapter puts forward that the Skinks are planning to wipe out the human military once they arrive on Haulover but no plan is ever discussed or followed. The final outcome is never in doubt.
Being the thirteenth novel in the series, it’s not a surprise to find there are a lot of references to events covered in the previous novels. It would help to have read them before picking this book up. On the whole, I was disappointed with ‘Wings Of Hell’ which I think suffers from the author’s extensive military backgrounds in the US forces. While they may be fully versed in US military lingo, it makes it difficult to read for the armchair soldier (me).
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 343 page hardback. Price: $23.00 (US), $25.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-50099-1
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 360 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-50100-4)