A Sword into Darkness by Thomas A. Mays

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I've always had a soft spot for military SF.  I blame Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle for this. The Mote in God's Eye and Footfall are still two of my favourite books, even though my tastes in literature have moved on.  Whatever your general preferences, reading those two books, and the novels of Tom Clancy if your tastes run to more real world fiction, you run into stories that catch you up in their narrative and pull you along with them no matter where they go.

It's been a while since I read any military SF, but Thomas Mays took part in The Writer's Arena and his story was thoroughly interesting.  I wanted to read more, he seemed very proud of his book and it was available on Amazon for the Kindle.  I bought it assuming I'd be taking a trip through some well worn tropes and treading a familiar path.  I wasn't entirely correct.

The story has a strong narrative.  It's a story you want to read and want to get to the end of.  You want to know what happens to the characters, even if you think you know at the outset.  Then you get grabbed by the author's intelligence and almost palpable joy at playing with fringe science concepts and, dammit, his enthusiasm is infectious.  This is the sort of science fiction you give to people when you want them to come to you later saying things like "so, how far are we away from a pebble bed reactor, exactly?"

That's a kind of fun you can only have with science fiction.  If books like this make people go and investigate what we're currently capable of or nearly capable of, you've got a book that inspires.  It's something that only science fiction does.  I love the work of Nick Hornby but his books have never once made me wish I was better at maths or less colour blind.

Are there down sides to the book?  Yeah, kinda, sorta.  It might be a bit gung ho American for a sensitive European audience, but frankly we see worse from Hollywood and since the main characters are American and more than a few are serving in the various Armed Forces you should expect a bit of respect for the flag and some patriotism.  Is it in many ways a bit of cheerleading for good old American rugged individualism and know how?  Yeah, kinda.  It doesn't get in the way of the story and the book doesn't lecture (although there were a couple of dialogue exchanges where a european lefty part of my brain started sighing and rolling it's eyes, I told it to shut up and let me get on with the narrative).

There are a couple of decent female characters - I'm sort of fond of Kris Munoz, even if she is the kind of brilliantly intelligent alternative lifestyle female engineer that we've seen quite a bit of in NCIS and Criminal Minds.  She seems like a well drawn character and is actually a lot more rounded than some of the men.  I think the author made an effort to ensure she wasn't just someone's love interest and, as a reader I appreciate that kind of thinking.

There are aliens, and they are impressive.  Their motivation is interesting and I'm not going to talk about it because I want you to go read the book.

For me, the big thrill of the book is that the author knows what he's talking about and can transfer that interest and enthusiasm to the page.  This is the same buzz that I get from Charles Stross, Ben Bova, Niven and Pournelle and half a dozen others.  I want to see more from Mr. Mays, because even though A Sword into Darkness treads familiar ground it does so with a lightness of step, a disarming grin and is excellent company on the journey.  Recommended.


Thomas Mays October 28, 2014 at 9:30 AM  

What's, my first comment appears to have been eaten, but thank you again for the read and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I will be working on a sequel, but have another project on the plate at the moment. Thank you again!

Tony Southcotte October 28, 2014 at 10:30 AM  

I feel like starting a USA chant to even things out a bit. Sounds like a good book though.

Thomas Mays October 28, 2014 at 1:31 PM  

Funny you should say that. He doesn't mention it, but the paperback has a subtle watermark of U-S-A! U-S-A! on every page.

David Webb October 28, 2014 at 5:25 PM  

I got the Kindle edition, which is not only very convenient but competitively priced.

I assume the Audible version has the U-S-A! chant as a subliminal message?

Just so you know...

I don't know what this bit is for. Perhaps I should give it a purpose?

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