The Soldier's Sympathy by Chris Guillory
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Soldier's Sympathy by Chris Guillory
The Soldier's Sympathy starts with and Epilogue and Jaron, an evident assassin for Kamiken [A sort of Corporate Agency that employs mercenaries.] We see Jaron casually making his hit while talking to himself. Only he's getting answers in his head and for a bit it might sound like he's employing some sort of advanced AI weapon that is helping him acquire the target; if not for his asking the voice to recall their wedding. After the kill we get a flash back to when Jaron was a soldier on a mission to the moon to rout out a nasty terrorist group known as the Tantalus [Think mindless zombie like followers who eat other people]. There ensues a slight bit of techno-babel related to the mission and a slight bit of world building that is mostly, but not quite (we'll see the Tantalus later), unimportant because the point of this flashback is that upon completion of the mission Jaron gets the bad news that his wife Mari has died; victim of an accident. This is followed by a brief explanation how that all leads to his employment with Kamiken and the suggestion by them that he have a Sympathy implant.
This is a good novel and right away we can see it will be a suspense novel with elements reminiscent of Philip k. Dick[[ASIN:0547572298 Ubik]] or for more recent readers perhaps William Gibson [[ASIN:0399158448 The Peripheral]]. But as I read on I find it has so many more elements twisted into the plot that it might seem a bit overpopulate. It's also a neat adventure yarn for those who love the near ceaseless action. But being suspense it carry's baggage that I've always had trouble with in this genre and that more than anything is what prevents me from giving five stars. I do give it high marks though and for all of that as usual I'll try to explain myself somewhat. Not everyone will agree with the way I see things and I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from reading this because it's the kind of book that you will want to read in one sitting regardless of whether you are capable or not.
I resume the story with Jaron reporting in to find he has another assignment with just enough time to rest in between. I get to know a bit more about Jaron but Jaron is one of many mysteries in the story that create the suspense so Chris Guillory deliberately short changes the reader on details. As with all good suspense I'll get to know what I need to know, but only when the author decides. There are many such omissions throughout and for me as a reader these add up to anticipation of a big payoff and in most instances the author acquits himself.
I get a walk through of the building Jaron works out of; one somewhat protracted by detailed description until we reach the assistant's office out side of Mr. Santos office, which thankfully is sparsely decorated. But this is setting a tone I'm going to see throughout for both the type of description of scene and location and the techno-babel involving the hardware employed by the mercs. For the reader who gets excited about world building and the detail of weaponry this novel will be a great treat.
The next scene I get to is the next assignment that is a retrieve or kill situation. Here things go poorly and it turns rapidly into a kill operation (Well, maybe a bit sluggishly considering all the detail to hardware.) Still as it turns out the target is a child. Thankfully Jaron makes a hasty decision and turns on his comrades and runs off with the young girl. By this time we're introduced to at least five distinct and well developed characters and there will be many more; almost an overwhelming amount for this reader.(I'll get back to this.) For now though the important thing is that for me I struggled with this turn about because all there is are hints to some element in Jaron's past that might influence the mans decision to risk everything to save a child. Sure it is a child, but up to this point all I know is that all these characters are ruthless killers. But once again this is part of that mystery and suspense aspect of withholding information.
After the failure and loss of the target and Jaron two of those involved are sent on a pickup that will intersect with more people important to the story. Alex Ibara and Daniel Richter are official police troops investigating a case involving someone who might be having a reaction to his Sympathy implant. The two Kamiken agents have been sent to intercept the suspect after they take him down. Despite objections that Alex and Dan have about giving the man up they have to because of orders from headquarters, but they both suspect that something is way off. Their subsequent investigation leads them head on into a confrontation with Jaron who is on the run with the child. Alex turns out to be the one character I love the most in this novel and it might be because she's one of the few major players who doesn't seem to have all the extra baggage that we aren't suppose to know yet. It might also be that her point of view isn't as cluttered with all the techno-babel, though I'm not sure why because she is in possession of one of the neatest technical devices.
It would probably take a novel to mention all the major players and that might account for why it seemed that the story would always bog down a bit while we encounter a paragraph or two of the newly introduced characters. It took me a while to get used to this pace to where I began to expect it and was sometimes pleasantly surprised when I received information about other characters through the eyes of someone else. Strangely it was often someone looking at one of the many ones with mysterious pasts and there were clues included for the reader, like specific tattoos and such which are important later. Once again I might be hyper sensitive to this and it's best for the discerning reader to make their own judgment.
This novel contains a lot of familiar elements to me. Throughout the novel the scenes switch up through a wide variety so varied I had visions of several other stories come to mind. When describing the facility where the girl, Jessica, had come from and her dreams of what might have occurred there, it brought to mind A.A. Bell's [[ASIN:B0047O2JB8 Diamond Eyes]]. And of course the flight scenes with Joran and the child reminded me of Stephen Kings [[ASIN:0451167805 Firestarter]]. But much later some desert scenes couldn't help but bring to mind the Mad Max movies. Later there is an explanation of the auger witches and how they interface with computers and satellites and the use of a viruse that regulates the connection which brought to mind a recent read of Tara K. Harper's [[ASIN:0345380517 Cat Scratch Fever]] and subsequent sequel [[ASIN:0345380525 Cataract]]. And this story does get every bit as gritty as the Cat Scratch Fever though it doesn't ever get quite as dark.
So though the ground work is familiar there are some style choices that make this unique to itself. Some choices seemed a bit risky but many paid off in the long run, but for me it meant that I had to get 20 percent of the way into the novel before it really took off and that was only after I managed to understand the pace and general style of presentation to where I could anticipate certain slowdowns at the introduction of each new major character.[Sometimes the effort seems to be duplicated in that as the story unfolds we get to know what we need to know without the separate blocked paragraphs of character description, though those blocks did help to cement the differences between characters.] There are grizzly elements in the description of many scenes because there are scenes with mass slaughter happening, which are mostly justified by the need to level the playing field between protagonist and antagonist by a show of somewhat indiscriminate destruction evident in the nature of augmented mercenaries.
This novel should excite most SFF military suspense enthusiasts and contains elements of Cyberpunk and even a slight dystopic atmosphere.
I highly recommend this to those interested in this type of fiction and despite my protests I did read it all in one sitting; because I was really interested in getting the answers to the questions. The reader won't be disappointed.
One note: There is one possible plot hole, but to discuss it would give away too much and spoil things so my best suggestion to the reader is to see if you notice it when you read The Soldier's Sympathy. [I'm easily confused sometimes and this may be the case. (translates:: I'll probably have to read this novel one more time.)]
View all my reviews