Friday, May 31, 2024

Review: Space War epic Alpha Wave

Alpha Wave (The Sleepers War Book 1) 

Blackstone Publishing; 2023. 764pp.

Jonathan Maberry and the late Weston Ochse take the space war epic in new directions - out into the universe and into the heart - in this gripping tale of resistance.   

Some the elements here, like forgotten or cast-aside supersoldiers and a battle that will remind you of the end of Star Wars: A New Hope, are familiar, if very well done. But there are surprise twists every time things start to look familiar, and cutting through it all is the human element that makes this novel something special. When historian Lexie Chow (a historian hero - I'm on board already) and her handful of Resistance fighters steal an old ship and leave occupied Earth on a desperate, longshot effort to find and wake the Sleepers, they know the entire Flock fleet is looking for them. It's not a spoiler to say the cloak of secrecy shrouding their mission is not as seamless as they think, although I guessed wrong about the source of the threat.

The buildup is very solid. In an analogy made explicit later in the book, it's clear from the outset the humans have fallen into a version of the trap Western militaries have faced against Asian enemies. The ability of cultures like the Chinese and Vietnamese to think in multi-generational terms and devalue the individual life has befuddled generals and empires. The Flock is the galactic master of this strategy, and their ability to play the humble and contrite peace-seekers at the right time is one reason countless planets live under the harsh rule of their taloned feet. There's a great deal of history-based wisdom in here about how resistance movements and dominant societies unfold, flavored by Ochese's expertise as a military intelligence expert, but it never slows the storytelling. (I don't know how the author partnership was done, and it's not obvious to me, but it works pretty seamlessly.)  They offer an original, plausibly written version of how FTL travel is done. 

Things really gets going when our heroes find the Sleepers lied to and abandoned long ago. The authors don't just assume the old solders will jump into the new war. They have to deal with the strangeness of their resurrection, the unexpected abilities, the knowledge of their betrayal, and the loss of loved ones, not to mention the mind-blowing (literally) discovery that somehow they've been in unconscious psychic contact with others, inspiring many of the acts of the Resistance. There's a lot of anguish before they decide there really isn't anything else to do except suit up and go back in.

Meanwhile, the Flock are watching, and the only plan with a chance of working is a crazy one requiring even more courage from the human crew of the former historic artifact Tin Man than from the supersoldiers. One of the great ideas here is that the Flock, in studying humans to keep them in line, hasn't come out unchanged. What they have learned from us about emotions has made some Flock leaders MORE dangerous, more capable of strategizing against us, and more willing to take any number of casualties to subjugate, capture, and exploit humans and superhumans. A Flock who takes the charming third name ("battle name") of Hell is especially good at learning from us - and despising us. Lexie and Sleeper leader Jason Horse, long connected in dreams, try to navigate their connection in real life, touchingly so, as Tin Man hurtles toward a destiny that Jason suspects will be very different than a simple space battle. There's another interested party in this war, with the highest, most personal stakes imaginable, and the way Jason interacts with them will rule the fate of all.

The end of this novel sets us up for a future that's more cosmically consequential than even humans vs. the vast Flock Empire.

The characters and technology all work well here, as they do in Maberry's thrillers. The stuff stored for 200 years (except the complex Sleeper capsules, many of which have failed) is a bit too reliable for me sometimes. The Flock is described and developed well even if the translation of their speech feels a little too human. Hearing that humans "can't wipe their own assess" is a bit startling from a homicidal ostrich. A few editing mistakes, like saying "two men" in one scene when one is a woman, slipped through. 

The authors write human interaction, from philosophy to agonizing decisions to unexpected love and sex, in a way that pulls the reader along, not just to see what happens but to see what these people - and near-people - do under unimagined circumstances. 

So sign on to the Tin Man and venture forth on a quest that offers humanity's last hope - and perhaps an undreamed-of future if we live to see it. This is a saga with more greatness ahead.

Matt Bille is a writer, historian, and naturalist living in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at Website:

Read Matt's Latest book, Of Books and Beasts: A Cryptozoologist's Library. This unique reference offers a friendly skeptic's 400 reviews of books on cryptozoology, zoology, related sciences, and cryptozoological fiction.
Watch for Matt's cryptozoological horror novel Death by Legend, coming soon from Hangar 1!

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