Tuesday, February 14, 2012
An army officer leads his team into a fire fight. One of his men is down with severe burns from an explosion. An enemy advances on his position, armed, firing and carrying a bomb. Only the enemy is a 16 year old girl who was given no choice. What does the officer do?
Essentially, the above seen is how Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) opens, only it’s a bit different. The scene is the roof top of a high school in Vermont and there are only 2 ‘enemies’ – both are teenagers who just discovered that they have magical powers, powers they didn’t ask for and can’t control. One is pyromancer who has basic control over fire elementals. The other is more dangerous – she can summon and control sentient elementals, a prohibited school of magic and an automatic death sentence.
Shortly after Army Lieutenant Oscar Britton leads his team into the above situation, the unthinkable happens – he manifests in a prohibited school of magic, portomancy. And then Oscar does what society says is the most selfish thing he can do in that situation – he runs. The rest of the book is all about Oscar’s flight, capture and then re-introduction into a shadow military where he’s a given a choice to serve his government without question or die. He’s conflicted about the horrible things he witnesses, his own power to help the Army do good, his own power to help the Army kill indiscriminately, and everything in between.
Control Point is many things at once – a thoughtful exploration of the conscious of a military officer, the military bureaucracy it depends on, while being a wildly fun, exciting and creative military fantasy. It’s a reflection of the times we live in and the ever-present threat of terrorism and the military’s response to it. Control Point is a reaction from a veteran of the US’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan just like Joe Haldeman's The Forever War (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review) is a reaction from a Vietnam veteran. It’s a nearly perfect book for a generation of gamers, yet it’s just as accessible to the non-gamers among us (like me). And it manages to do all of these things in thoughtful, balanced way that is an extreme adrenaline ride and one hell of a good read.
Control Point strikes an impressive balance between the tortured introspection of a very conflicted individual versus magical military fantasy in a wild setting with non-stop action. The reader is taken through a myriad of scenes from military raids, to fugitives on the run, hard-ass boot camp Sergeants beating the crap out of new recruits, thoughtful sacrifice and all-out battle chaos. It’s precisely this balance that allows for Control Point to have a little something for everyone – it’s both deep and action-packed, it’s both a conflicted military drama and a journey full of magical adventure, it’s a commentary on our own current government and an unhappy future, and it’s all about one soldier’s conflict with doing what he thinks is right.
The balance act continues as Cole shows a government that is both good and evil. He shows soldiers that do good and bad. There are no easy answers and Cole doesn’t try and provide any. Does Oscar ultimately make the right decision? I don’t know, but I am very much looking forward to reading more in the forethcoming sequel, Fortress Frontier, scheduled for early 2013.
No balancing act can go on forever, and none can be absolutely perfect, and neither is Control Point. After the strong opening of the book, I felt that the momentum slowed too much in the middle portions of the book. On the plot side of things, I would say that it’s rather predictable, in fact the book lacks that significant twist that so many found their conclusions on, though the story is told in such an engaging way that it hardly matters. But, after the slower middle, the end of Control Point picks up and ends with just the sort of high-level impact that it began with.
In summary, Shadow Ops: Control Point looks like an early favorite to be one of the most significant new SFF releases in 2012. It literally has something for everyone – magic, military, conflicted internal dialogue, a budding romance, magical creatures, guns, explosions and much, much more. It’s easily one of the most impressive debuts I’ve read in the last several years and I truly feel it could be this generation’s The Forever War. I highly recommend that you read this book right now.