To the veteran journalist Lex Falk the planet Eighty Six looks as dull as it's unimaginative name would suggest, then trouble starts brewing with the local population and the media start getting the runaround from the military high command, his interest is suddenly roused.
I have been looking forward to reading Embedded ever since I saw the cover over at Angry Robot Books, I know you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover but we all do and to see Dan Abnett writing a non warhammer military novel was just too much to resist. Luckily those angry but kind robots sent me a copy to review and I must admit that I haven't been dissapointed.
The book essentially tells the story of the veteran reporter Lex as he visits another new colony planet (settlements are simply numbered until they become part of the "United Status") in the hope of finding a scoop that could net him another pulitzer prize. It is clear that Lex's best days are sadly behind him while the vast amount of space travel have taken their toll on his body and he just hasn't realised it yet. He is given the official company glitz and sold the story that there is just a "local dispute" going on, while given a very sanitized tour full of smiling trooper faces, many of whom are even restricted to "sponsored cursing".
Before long Lex has made sufficient contacts to get to where the real story lies, and find's himself chipped into a soldier on the front line, embedded within his consciousness.
The world around which Embedded is based is exceptionally well put together. I already knew Dan Abnett was a very gifted writer - he wrote the script for the Ultramarine film, has won awards for his comics and is a New York Times bestseller, but the vision portrayed here is phenomenal. In parts it's like a 21st century refined version of Starship Troopers, with subtle commentary on our current political and economic climate, (at least as far as the corporation of the armed forces goes). The SOMD (Settlement Office Military Directorate) especially reminds me of the political "spin doctors" that try and dehumanise anything that could be seen in a negative light.
The prose is tight and incredibly well written, it plays very much like an intelligent war movie, and one that would have been likely to have won many awards. There is a real maturity to the narrative, you can really imagine yourself as part of a unit of highly trained soldiers on the front line a billion miles away from home.
There is little time given to back story, it's very much a character and situation based story and we learn as they do. The charaterisation is spot on, with enough information to draw yourself to the protagonists while not giving away too much to slow the story. Everyone are portrayed as very human with all the weaknesses and foibles, there are no larger than life hero's just real people in chaotic situations. The pace itself is set just right and the action scenes are quite brilliant with a descriptive edge that really brings the action to life.
I really loved the idea of putting an untrained journalist right inside the body of a ground pounder and then throwing every conceivable situation at him, it works very well indeed and the atmosphere is incredible. A mention must also be made of the ending, a very unexpected twist right at the end leaves you almost breathless and it's fantastically underplayed.
At it's heart Embedded is a gritty military science fiction story, it's also one of the best books you will read this year, I loved every second of it.
Written on Tuesday 8th March 2011 by Antony.
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