Plot: The plot of Holden’s hard science fiction novel is masterfully elaborated and executed. Its panoramic unfolding through a multiplicity of characters’ experiences as they grapple with the consequences of a near-future spaced-based kinetic weapons system gives it a global scope, but also sense of personal intimacy. The story is suspenseful, audacious, and full of thrilling surprises.
Prose/Style: Holden’s prose mixes abundant technological and military jargon with its characters’ regular conversation. Whether or not it is technically accurate, it certainly convinces the reader that it is.
Originality: Holden’s novel is the latest in a tradition of military thrillers with science fiction overtones, harking back to Wheeler and Burdick’s Fail-Safe (1962) and even earlier. That said, it has a satisfyingly fresh feel.
Character Development: Holden’s novel is told through a diverse array of character viewpoints, each them credibly rendered. Each has their own personality with its attending complexities, none more so than Anastasia Grahkovsky, creator of Russia’s Groza weapons system, whose defense of it at the expense of the considerable human deaths it causes is chilling but, given her backstory, understandable.
Date Submitted: April 25, 2020
Futuristic exoskeletons and artificial intelligence bring a speculative edge to the story, which is grounded by international political maneuvering and old-fashioned espionage. Holden populates this political blockbuster of a novel with a cast of sympathetic and intriguing characters. Col. Alicia Rodriguez of the U.S. Space Force joins forces with Scotland-based Lt. Meany Papastopoulos, who leads the R.A.F.’s suborbital missile launch system. Cpl. Maqsud Khan, charged with deploying Groza, must balance Grahkovsky’s orders against his pacifist beliefs, humanizing the antagonistic side. Holden only stumbles with the characterization of Grahkovsky, which unfortunately falls into stereotypes of a disfigured and disabled sociopath.
Though the nonstop action is sometimes tiring, readers will be captivated by Holden’s deft battle sequences and his characters’ constantly shifting strategy. Holden expertly pulls from recent military history, technology, and international relations to fuel his prescient epic about the militarization of space. While keeping an eye on the big picture, he also delves into technologically driven warfare’s devastating effects on individual lives. Thriller readers with an interest in the future of politics and warfare will find a lot to chew on in this exciting and thoughtful novel.
Takeaway: Military enthusiasts and science fiction fans will delight in this action-packed political thrill ride set 900 miles up.
Great for fans of James Rosone’s Into the Stars, Matthew Mather’s CyberSpace.
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: A-