Title: Beyond Duty
Author: James Buchanan
Cover Artist: Deana C. Jamroz
Publisher: MLR Press
Amazon: Only available on Amazon in a bundle called Buy Link The Edge of Desperation
Genre: Military Science Fiction
Length: Novella /49K words
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Lenalena
Review Summary: If you enjoy Military Science Fiction and you like your soldiers tough as nails, this one is for you. Otherwise: probably not so much.
James introduces us to Alad and Hirah, both out searching for something when they meet, are they the end of searching for each other?
That is possibly the shortest, vaguest and lamest blurb ever. On top of that the dude on the cover would not survive 5 minutes into this story. No way would either of the main characters be caught dead with an Elvis pompadour like that. This is what happens when a publisher decides to re-release a story without giving the author any notice.
This book used to be bundled with Jason Edding’s ‘Dark Robe Edges: Dark Robe Society 2’ in a book called ‘The Edge of Desperation’, published in 2009. This is probably why I have never picked up this particular Buchanan book before: me and ‘Dark Robe Society 1’ parted on very unfriendly terms long before I had finished reading it.
So, lucky for me, I can now read this particular story without any chance of accidentally running into those dark robes. I was surprised to see James Buchanan wrote a SciFi story, I thought he did contemporary (and historical) only. I was even more surprised to realize that Buchanan wrote a SciFi story that actually reads like SciFi, not like Romance with a lick of SciFi frosting.
The experienced SciFi (and Fantasy) reader knows what to expect in the first few chapters of a new book: a jumble of puzzle pieces that will need to be put together by the reader to understand the new world the writer has created. Its inhabitants, its environment, its rules and its challenges. Buchanan’s puzzle is challenging; not too challenging if you like that sort of thing, but it’s probably not for everybody. Just read the excerpt on the publishers website to see in which category you fall. If that makes you go ‘oh, interesting’, you’re good to go. If it makes you go ‘what the….’, never mind this book. This is really not ‘A Solid Core of Alpha’, ‘Dark Space’ or other SciFi-light.
Adal and Hirah are soldiers through and through. This is the story of how they meet, how they meet again and how they end up devoted to each other, while things get blown up all around and political intrigue rears its ugly head. While the worldbuilding is depicted in detail in all its damp and soggy glory, the men are a bit more sparsely drawn. This fits the story well at the beginning but leaves a bit to be desired by the end. Their romance isn’t very romantic at all, really. They are men of action, not words. The sex is rough, they don’t cuddle, they don’t have heart to hearts. Nobody uses the L word. And, sweet relief, not a single tear is shed in this book, despite several life-or-death situations. These guys would shudder at the thought of any potential crying. This may not satisfy the average reader’s need for romance, but, personally, I loved that. Alad, in particular, is a great character with a wonderful pragmatic attitude. There were enough twists and turns in the story to keep me turning the pages with interest.
The only thing is, this book is awfully short for a Science Fiction book with this level of worldbuilding. There is a reason most regular SciFi books are at least 3 times the length of this one. This is like Peter Jackson hiring the full cast of The Hobbit, taking them all to New Zealand, build all the sets, get all the costumes and make up done and then only film the trailer. Ok, so it’s a bit more extensive than a trailer and the story is satisfying, but still…. There is this whole world, and all these cool secondary characters, and there must be MOAR!
The writing is a little clunky at times. There is a lot of use of first names and not enough substitution of the names by pronouns in many scenes, leading to a lot of ‘Hirah said… Alad thought… Hirah grabbed Alad’s arm to drag Alad away from Hirah’s kit…’ etc. There are a few glaring typos (tongue’s for tongues, birth for berth) and one or two temporal glitches, that the editor really should have caught. But it isn’t bad enough to start The Bad Editing Rant right now.
So I still haven’t found the perfect SciFi Romance, but this one was really pretty good.