Veteran (book 1) by Gavin G. Smith (book review)

‘Veteran’ tells the story of Sergeant Jakob Douglas, an ex-special forces veteran who has been discharged from the forces. There’s a British interest here as he’s ex-SAS and the opening chapters take place in Dundee. However, the future has not been kind to Dundee or other areas of Britain. It seems there was a Final Human Conflict and while details are scarce in the book, it does look like there has been another world war with large parts of the world devastated.

In this brutal future, the fighting soldiers are augmented with built-in armour and increased sensors. Jacob’s eyes have been replaced with lenses allowing him to see in the dark and the ability to zoom in. One arm is prosthetic with built-in weapons. He also has connection ports in the back of his neck for connecting to powered armour or other machines. When they retire from the service, most of these augmentations are deactivated to protect the general public.

For the general population, the post-FHC world is not a nice place. Many live in destitution aligned to local gangs or war lords. If this wasn’t bad enough, mankind has been at war with ‘Them’ for sixty years. Them are a strange enigmatic race of aliens who eradicate any human’s they find. The fighting services are quick to recruit willing conscripts who, after training, are shipped off world to join the fight.

The story begins with Jakob being reactivated against his will and sent to investigate the possible landing of an alien ship not far from his current abode. There is a possibility that an alien has landed and is attempting to infiltrate the local population. His brief is to confirm the landing, find and kill the alien. But as Jakob says in the blurb on the back of the book, ‘So I took the job. It went to shit even faster than normal.’ He’s not wrong there.

Initially, he’s delighted to have all his military augmentations reactivated. It gives him a real buzz as he makes his way to the reported landing site and starts his rather unorthodox investigation. People in Jakob’s vicinity start dying fairly quickly. Either he kills them or someone else does. Collateral damage as it were. When he finally gets to his target, things get even stranger as things might not be as it appears.

One of the things which has a bearing on the choices Jakob makes is that his boss, Major Rolleston, has tried quite hard to kill him at least once and possibly twice if you include his last assignment. There he decimated his squad and his friend, Gregor MacDonald, appeared to be infected by one of Them. MacDonald was evacuated from the combat zone but Jakob and the other survivor were left to fend for themselves. MacDonald and has not been seen since.

This sort of explains why Jakob goes on the run. He needs answers and believes finding MacDonald is the key. Following the carnage in Dundee, when Rolleston tried to kill Jakob again, he flees with a prostitute who has a knack for hacking. The search for MacDonald has begun.

I found ‘Veteran’ to be a real page-turner with the story fast-paced. While Jakob is an ex-SAS veteran skilled in the art of killing people and Them, he is not what you would consider a hero. He often comes out worse off or badly damaged in the fights he gets into but has the resources to achieve what he wants to do. The other characters he meets along the way are certainly odd but this is an odd brutal Earth. Many of the people are ex-soldiers and fighting Them can do strange things to a person’s mind.

While I think I read a lot but have a habit of missing rather good books until years after they were published. That’s exactly what has happened here as ‘Veteran’ by Gavin G. Smith was first published in 2010. As the book title implies, this is military SF but with a brutal edge as ex-servicemen and women do not have a cosy retirement after being discharged from the service. What marks this out as a very good read are the types of military hardware and how the military has adapted to the digital age. The alien ‘Them’ are also a really novel idea and well done in this tale. I can’t go into details without giving spoilers.

What I think the story lacks is a bit of back history to the Final Human Conflict and how countries like Britain manage to function. Jakob is after all a British SAS veteran and he drives a Triumph motorbike, too. The lack of back story is more than made up for by the twists and turns of the plot. Yes, it is brutal military SF but there are points where you wonder which side is in the right and there’s a few sides to choose from

For a debut novel, this is a real cracker and well worth the asking price. I look forward to reading some more from Mr Gavin G. Smith.

Andy Whitaker

June 2017

(pub: Gollancz, 201. 470 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-09410-9)

check out website:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.