World Of Fire (A Dev Harmer Mission book 1) by James Lovegrove (book review).

I’ve reviewed all seven volumes in James Lovegrove’s ‘Age of …’ series of military SF novels here over the last few years, most recently ‘Age Of Shiva’ in June, which was flagged up as being the last book in that series.

Being a highly productive sort of chap, Lovegrove immediately launched into a new far future SF series for Solaris, with ‘World Of Fire’ being the first volume. The series follows the adventures of Dev Harmer, an agent for Interstellar Security Solutions (ISS), who gets sent on troubleshooting missions all over the human diaspora, though he mostly ends up near the border with the neighbouring Polis Plus, a race of religiously fanatical Artificial Intelligences with whom humanity has until very recently been at war.


Since physical space travel round the diaspora takes so long, ISS prefer to send their agents to each new job by the novel mechanism of downloading their consciousness and then beaming it almost instantaneously to the target planet, where it is uploaded into a host body that has been newly cloned and grown from local DNA specially for that mission.

On this occasion, Dev wakes up in a squat, thickset body lying in an underground cavern inside the thermoplanet Alighieri. Like Mercury in our own Solar System, this planet orbits so close to its parent star that its surface is hot enough to melt lead. People don’t live on the surface of Alighieri but deep underground. It’s not a tourist destination but is an ideal location to mine Helium-3, the fuel for fusion reactors everywhere, which makes it an economically and strategically important planet. So it’s rather unfortunate that the planet lies so close to the Polis Plus border, making it an attractive target for the AIs.

The city of Calder’s Edge, where Dev wakes up, has been subject to increasingly frequent earthquakes over recent months, even though it was deliberately located far from any sites of tectonic activity. The local Governor, Maurice Graydon, suspects that the earthquakes are somehow being triggered by Polis Plus agents, trying to destabilise the human colony so that they can claim the planet and its Helium-3 for themselves. He has engaged ISS to find out the truth.

No sooner has Dev been briefed on the local situation than it becomes very personal when an earthquake and rock-fall destroy much of the ISS complex where he arrived and kills the local agent who had just briefed him. Dev barely escapes with his life and immediately gets into trouble with the local Chief of Police, Astrid Kahlo, who sees him surreptitiously leaving the ISS building and so arrests him on suspicion of blowing it up. Although it doesn’t take long for him to prove his identity, humourless hard-nut Kahlo seems reluctant to trust him.

However when the Police receive reports of a train crash nearby, Dev persuades Kahlo to let him accompany her to the scene, where they find that a local freight train has crashed head-on into a packed commuter train, an event that ought to be impossible. Once they’ve taken statements, they head back towards the city, only to find themselves in danger from a second runaway freight train that’s behind and gaining on them! Only quick thinking from Dev stops him, Kahlo and her police colleagues from becoming the city’s next accident statistics. Back in the city, Dev persuades Kahlo that the rock-fall and the runaway train can’t be a random coincidence. Someone’s out to kill the newly arrived ISS man while making it look like an accident.

Dev keeps digging and his investigations lead him to the outskirts of the city, where he has a near-fatal encounter with a moleworm, a two metre long burrowing animal that is the planet’s largest natural predator. When Dev finds out that these creatures, which normally stay well away from human habitation, have been seen in increasing numbers over the previous few weeks, he guesses at a connection with the ‘quakes. Are the moleworms causing the earthquakes or is the seismic activity bringing these creatures up from their usual hunting grounds, half-way round the planet? Dev heads off there to check and quickly finds himself under attack from trigger-happy locals and voracious moleworms with only an odd-ball xeno-entomologist called Professor Trundell for company. Will he get to the bottom of what’s going on or will his investigation go up in smoke?

If I was asked to describe this book in just one word, it would be ‘fun’. The story zooms along at a rip-roaring pace, told in an irreverent tone that perfectly matches the character of our hero, Dev Harmer. He’s a loveable rogue with a tragic back story but he’s also a lot more than that. Dev’s personality fills any room that he’s in and I’d challenge any reader not to warm to him within the first five chapters.

The principal relationship in the book is an evolving one between the unpredictable and irreverent Harmer and the tough-as-nails, by-the-book, straight-laced Kahlo. At every turn, he irritates her and she frustrates him but over time they develop a grudging respect for each other. There’s a classic ‘buddy cop’ movie vibe going on here but Lovegrove gives it a fresh spin, not least through the strength of Kahlo’s character.

Another feature of the story that I particularly enjoyed was the setting. Thermoplanet Alighieri is rendered in such believable detail that I almost got a sweat on when Harmer got into trouble on the surface, later in the book. Given that the premise of this series is that each adventure will take place on a new planet with very different physical characteristics, I think Lovegrove has got things off to a brilliant start here.

‘World of Fire’ is an exciting debut to what will hopefully be a long-lived new SF series from James Lovegrove. Like James Bond, ISS agent Dev Harmer ‘will return’ in ‘World Of Water’, scheduled for release in early 2016. I can’t wait.

Patrick Mahon

October 2015

(pub: Solaris/Rebellion, 2014. 325 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78108-206-5)

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