BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Lieutenant Jander Mortas and three other shuttle crash survivors seek escape from a harsh alien planet that may be even more dangerous than they first assume.
PROS: Satisfying character arc; interesting and original aliens; gripping fight for survival; lots of potential for future entries in series; a killer ending.
CONS: The story would benefit from stronger characterization.
BOTTOM LINE: Henry V. O’Neil’s Glory Main is an unexpected, yet satisfying, military sf novel.
Though the majority of my reading these days consists of fantasy and urban fantasy titles, military science fiction will always be my favorite sub-genre of fiction. It’s been a while since I read any military science fiction but I’ve been playing a good amount of the video game Destiny lately and it rekindled my interest in good ol’ fashion space war. Fortunately I stumbled upon Henry V. O’Neil’s novel Glory Main: The Sim War Book One, one of the winners of the Harper Voyage digital submission contest. If Glory Main is to serve as any indication, Harper Voyager Impulse is publishing some quality novels and well worth keeping an eye on.
We are locked in a decades old conflict with the Sims, an alien race that closely resembles humanity in almost every way. The battle for habitable planets rages across the stars, consuming countless lives. In the midst of this intergalactic battlefield Lieutenant Jander Mortas is stranded on a seemingly lifeless planet en route to his first field posting. Along with a psychoanalyst, a pacifist, and a scout-slave Jander’s training is put to the ultimate test in a life and death struggle to escape the planet. As it turns out the planet may not be as lifeless as first assumed and soon the four crash survivors face a threat far greater than the hostile environment.
Glory Main isn’t a typical military science fiction novel, it defied a lot of my expectations. Most of the mil sf I’ve read features futuristic vehicles, gear, and weapons. It’s become one of the aspects I most anticipate about reading these kinds of stories. I’m endlessly fascinated with predictions of how warfare might be waged decades and centuries from now. In Glory Main our protagonists are stripped of all this from the very start — Lieutenant Jander Mortas and crew have nothing but their wits and the clothes on their backs. Henry V. O’Neil snatches away the safety blanket provided by dropships and power armor and laser rifles and this serves to heighten the stakes. It is later discovered that the planet is already inhabited by the Sims and for a brief while our protagonists link up with a ragtag human assault element but for the majority of the novel Jander, Cranther, Trent and Gorman are alone and mostly unarmed. I found that the soft opening of Glory Main and the landscape of the alien planet really emphasizes this sense of isolation.
The thirst, the hunger, the weary hopelessness of the situation is a constant throughout the story. Each of the four characters has a particular skill set that is utilized over the course of the novel. The main character is Lieutenant Jander Mortas, a young man seeking adventure and glory. Glory Main sees his transformation from officer fresh out of candidate school to seasoned veteran. He starts off naive and eager to prove himself, yet easily likable, and learns the hard lessons of leadership and survival. The most obviously useful soldier in his crew is Corporal Cranther, a Spartacan scout that is accustomed to operating behind enemy lines with little to no support network. In relating past experiences on the battlefield Cranther serves to smash Jander’s preconceived notions of war against the Sims. The two other characters, a pacifist chartist and a psychoanalyst, also play important roles in the story, though would have been improved with additional characterization. Glory Main is a novel of personal survival at impossible odds rather than a star-spanning campaign and so an added degree of connection between Jander and the people he finds himself stranded with would have made a big difference.
One of the most interesting aspects of Glory Main is the enigma of the Sims. They look human but they can’t eat the food that we eat or speak in a way that we’ve been able to translate in forty years of fighting. They are relatively low tech and have a tendency for reverse engineering human technology or just stealing it outright. What they lack in sophistication they more than make up for with numbers and tenacity. There are a lot of mysteries surrounding the Sims and a lot of possibilities for O’Neil to explore in future entries to the series.
Glory Main is not your average military science fiction novel. The characters spend more time fighting starvation and thirst than aliens but that is not to say that this novel lacks action. On the contrary, the book is filled with tension and excitement. If the first third of the novel seems a little slow, I ask that readers stick with it because the middle and final acts are intense. Glory Main is not the book I expected to read when I first picked it up and I’m quite pleased it turned out to be something else entirely. Jander’s character arc is well executed and the twist at the end of the novel delivers a gut punch. Glory Main is a satisfying story of survival against all odds and I look forward to whatever book two of The Sim War has to offer.