Friday, March 27, 2015

A review of THE IX, by Andrew Paul Weston.

"Weston's mix of history, metaphysics and real science ventures into territory not often explored in science fiction. Past, Present and Future are masterfully blended in an epic novel that takes classic elements to new heights. Weston has a true gift for superb storytelling and memorable characters. This one is not to be missed."

Yes, that's my quote on the back cover of THE IX, the new science fiction novel by Andrew Paul Weston, published by Perseid Press. And it's a great story, too: military science fiction in the grand tradition of Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Gordon R. Dickson, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Janet Morris, and Joe Haldeman.  Old-school science fiction with a 21st century sensibility.

The IX deals with The Ninth Roman legion, which according to history, vanished in the mists of Caledonia around 120 AD. In Weston's novel, the legionnaires of the IX are snatched from earth at the very moment of death and taken to the planet of Arden, where they join with
a US Cavalry company on a special mission for Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln, American Plains Indians from the 1860s, and a Special Forces unit from the 21st century. They are all given the choice -- fight or die to help save the Ardenese race from a relentless, unstoppable alien foe known only as the Horde. That's the premise, and it works beautifully.

This is a story of courage under fire, of warriors who live by codes of honor, loyalty and brotherhood that have not changed down through the centuries. This is a story of men and women saved from imminent death on earth and given a chance to fight for a cause greater than themselves, to save another race from destruction and extinction, and to build new lives on another world. While there is no "main" character per se in The IX, we are given a cast of great characters, such as the memorable Marcus Brutus of The Ninth Roman Legion, Captain James Houston of the U.S. Cavalry, and Lieutenant Alan "Mac" McDonald of a  UK anti-terrorist unit from 2052. We also come to know Small Robe and her uncle, Stained-With Blood of the Blackfoot tribe of Native-Americans, as well as scientists, technicians  and medical personnel such as Mohammed, Saul, Ephraim Miller, Ayria . . . and many more, including the Ardenese avatar known as the Architect. What happens to some of these characters during the course of the novel is both surprising and emotionally powerful.

 At first, the Horde start out as nothing more than another faceless army of bizarre xenomorphs and mindless automatons: they are energy-sucking vampires, virtually unstoppable. In this respect, they reminded me of the giant robot from the classic sci-fi film of the 1950s, Kronos -- sent to earth to devour and deplete us of our energy resources. Hi-tech weapons cannot stop the Horde, for they absorb almost everything that is thrown at them. What are these creatures and where do they come from?  This was a concern of mine when I started reading The IX: I wanted more than just a pack of ravenous, extraterrestrial zombies or hive-mind creatures like the big bugs in the film version of Heinlein's Starship Troopers. And Weston did not disappoint me, for as the story rolls on like a juggernaut, the scientists and technicians, and even the warriors themselves risking their lives to save Ardenese civilization, stumble upon a very simple weapon, and the means to fight back and destroy the Horde. And we start to learn that they are far more than what they at first appear to be. (You get no spoiler here from me!) 

While new strategies are devised, while warriors from three different eras on earth forge bonds of friendship and unite against a common foe, it becomes a chess game, this battle against the Horde. Each time some new weapon or tactic is brought into the play, the Horde quickly learn and adapt, and are prepared for the next assault against them. Weston then throws in more surprises as the true nature of the Horde is slowly revealed to us . . . the who and what they are that I wanted to know. The final revelation of this, along with the self-sacrifice of so many warriors -- both human and otherwise -- is quite satisfying and makes for a perfect conclusion to this novel.  

The IX is a fast-paced novel, a truly "ripping yarn," with plenty of action and some good characterization. Weston picks you up and sets you down on the very believable world of Arden, just as the Ardenese do with the three bands of brothers and sisters from earth. And Weston threw me a nice curve, too, one that totally caught me off-guard with the character of the most unlikeable James Houston: what he is when the story opens, what happens to him as the novel progresses, and what is finally revealed about him in the end makes for classic storytelling. And in the intense finale, where the already heroic Mac rises to an even greater act of heroism and glory, is the most powerful and moving moment in this wonderful novel. It's the pay-off that sells the story.  

In The IX, you will learn what legionnaires of the lost Ninth Roman Legion bring to the table, what their presence means to the Ardenese race, and that the Ix has a second meaning, as well. So "Walk the Ix" and get lost inside this wonderful story that is sure to become a modern classic of heroic and military science fiction. THE IX is published by Perseid Press, and is available in paperback, Kindle, and Nook editions.