Marines: Crimson Worlds
So, as part of my holiday book odyssey, I devoured a huge quantity of trashy military science fiction novels. And Jay Allan’s Marines: Crimson Worlds kind of fit the bill for what I got too much of. If Starfist was “mainstream military sci-fi cliche bingo” this was “self-published military sci-fi cliche bingo”. If not worse. Marines Crimson Worlds is the sort of book I derogatorily call “spacesuit commando”, and after reading just a few of these I got a very clear guideline for how a lot of these (I must be fair and say not all) went.
Now it’s important not to overstate. This kind of book is the literary equivalent of a Nissan Versa or Mitsubishi Mirage. So comparing this to the classic writers like Heinlein or Haldeman is totally unfair. Even comparing it to (early) Tom Clancy is unfair. No, this is best compared to the Mack Bolan-spinoff style ‘contemporary’ action. And it still falls short. Part of it is combining an infodump-heavy format with a first-person view, but that’s not all of it. If I had to boil it down to two points, I’d say these have:
- Excessive training sequences. This I can pin on Heinlein and people who didn’t get that the training was, for better or worse, the actual point of Starship Troopers. Cheap trashy military sci-fi tends to involve excessive training sequences in ways that cheap trashy contemporary thrillers don’t. This is a self-imposed higher bar to clear.
- Bad antagonists. How can you get worse than the cackling supervillains of cheap thrillers? Answer: Popup targets with no reason for existing save to provide something for the heroes to fire at. I’d compare it to video games, except most video games have better and more-developed opponents. Marines: Crimson Worlds is particularly bad because the opponents are other humans and not even “generic aliens out to kill everything”.
Marines: Crimson Worlds has all this and even more of the tropes I’ve noticed. Some vague dystopian background, the main character being a super special champion who gets promoted ridiculously high ridiculously fast, and action that falls into the “military sci-fi pit” of neither being grounded nor over-the-top (this is a particular problem with ‘spacesuit commando’ novels where the only real gimmick is power armor that doesn’t seem to do anything) and thus appearing merely dull. The supporting characters in Marines: Crimson Worlds are, for the most part, nothing but blank names.
While I’ve spent the last five paragraphs slamming the novel, I’ll say that it at least worked as a mindless time-passer. But only that, and I’d in most cases prefer a contemporary action novel for the same purpose.