This Week's Double Bill. . .
This latest outing into the Caine Riordan universe – written by Kevin Ikenberry – focuses on the experiences of Captain Hubert –Bo– Moorefield and his taskforce, who have set up shop at Camp Stark, a Forward Operating Base on the border of the Haman desert region of R’bak, in anticipation of the arrival of Lieutenant Harold Tapper and his Sarmatchani strike force. Tapper and his team had previously liberated a considerable vehicle cache and other operational supplies from their J’strull enemies, and are being pursued. It’s Moorefield’s job to make sure the strike force and their contraband are taken in to safe custody.
There you have the premise of a gritty little tale that’s bound to please, especially as Murphy’s Law runs rampant, and things don’t go to plan.
I won’t say anything further about the story ark, as – for me at any rate – that’s not what this visit to R’bak is really about. No, what I particularly liked about Ikenberry’s approach was its emphasis on the psychological cost facing those soldiers who serve their country and/or end up having to go to war.
Yes, there’s action aplenty. (This is a story within the Caine Riordan universe after all.) And its well written. But as a veteran who has seen action in a number of different theaters around the world, I really appreciated the subtle reminder we get of the other, often hidden war that goes on inside the minds of those who give their all to keep us safe. That war can make you bleed. It hurts. It inflicts injuries just as real, just as debilitating as the ‘real thing.’ And the emotional impact on those you’ve left behind?
In Bo Moorefield’s case, he was abducted from earth and put into cryogenic sleep in 1992, on the very day he received a ‘Dear John’ letter from his wife, Sharon. We explore his feelings about that. After all, he wakes up one hundred and thirty years later on a very different world, countless millions of miles away, and is completely helpless to do anything about it. He can’t call. He can’t write. He can’t offer to sit down and talk things through to see if there’s any chance of a reconciliation. No, it’s a past event; long-gone history by the time he realizes what’s happened, and he has to carry that burden into battle.
But how does it affect him? His outlook? His capacity to relate to others effectively? His ability to take command and make effective, objective decisions? Is he still capable of inspiring those he leads? Because don’t forget, he’s not the only one dealing with ghosts of the past, and the J’strull aren’t going to give up their assets without one hell of a fight!
Yes, there’s a witch’s brew of trouble fomenting, and its up to Bo Moorefield to prioritize his obligations and find a solution before it’s too late.
A thoughtful and evocative tale about what soldiers on the frontline have to contend with.
When it comes to the Lost Soldiers of the Caine Riordan universe, you’re guaranteed to meet a wide variety of individuals. Technical and combat specialists. Heroes. Professionals in their fields. People who were no doubt greatly missed when tragedy struck, snatching them away from their loved ones and through time and space, only for them to end up fighting someone else’s war. And this latest adventure – Man-Eater, by Griffin Barber – is no different. . .
Except that it IS.
Warrant Officer Chalmers is something of a maverick, a former criminal investigation specialist gone bad. He crossed one too many lines and was being shipped back home to face the consequences of his crimes. But he never does, at least, not on Earth, for he wakes up 130 years later where everything has changed. His world. His situation. His prospects.
And THAT forms the crux of our story.
Have the sins of Chalmers’ past followed him into the future? Can he be trusted? Does he deserve a second chance? A chance to do better? To become a different person?
We find out, for Chalmers has been tasked to investigate a suspected crime ring operating among the local J’strull satraps of R’bak. Their activities not only threaten the Lost Soldiers’ overall objectives on the planet, but the lives of their allies too. In particular, Chalmers is expected to identify the leaders, root out their strongholds among the local communities, and locate contraband tech they might tip the balance of power throughout the region.
How does this shamed soldier fare?
You’ll find Man-Eater a rather cautionary tale, as Chalmers ends up fighting as much against his ingrained behavioral patterns as he does the alien expectations, language and customs he’s been thrown in amongst. It makes for inciteful, painful reading, because even when a person wants to change; indeed, is genuinely determined to change, old habit die hard. And as the story arc so poignantly expresses, Chalmers is his own worst enemy.
A thoroughly absorbing story that adds a greater depth to an ever-growing universe.