Veteran by Gavin Smith
Gollancz, 468pp paperback, £7.99 cover price
Reviewed by R A Bardy [@mangozoid]
Veteran is set in the not-so-distant future, 60 years after an intergalactic war, on an Earth that has changed considerably from the one we know. The future is grim, gritty, and riddled with military hardware, enhanced cybernetic bodyware, and extremely big guns.
Jacob Douglas is the military vet of the title, and is unexpectedly called upon (forced?) to go back to work and help hunt down another one of Them, a suspected alien infiltrator.
Told from a first person perspective, it doesn’t take long for the prose to immerse you into this stunningly well-imagined and gritty depiction of the hell hole that is future Earth. From the slum-lands of Dundee, through the imaginatively named Rigs of the North Sea (a city of old abandoned oil rigs), and the flooded underwater remnants of New York City, the locations and characters are all very well realised. Curiously, Hull is in there too, seemingly unchanged, and Crawling Town: a kind of rolling city of trucks, motor homes, etc.
The book is fast paced, and moves rapidly from one locale to the next – there are huge gunfights, lots of techno-gadgets, and numerous incidents along the way, interspersed with humour, violence, and plenty of macho talk between ex-military comrades. The majority of characters had genuine depth, and I was pleased with how they developed; the introduction of God towards the end as an inter-networked all-seeing all-knowing ‘set of parameters’ –defined by the characters– was somewhat jarring, and possibly the only downside to an otherwise cracking read.
Although I would not consider myself the biggest fan of the sub-genre labelled ‘military SF’ I really did enjoy this début novel immensely. Hugely entertaining, and highly recommended.
I note that this novel has also been nominated for the John W. Campbell Memorial Awards for 2011, and may indeed already have won it by the time you read this.