Published by Roc
What if evolution played out differently – dinosaurs did not become extinct, with bird-like lizards and intelligent lemurs evolving as the two sentient species on the planet? Then, what if all of a sudden, a WWII destroyer class sea-vessel appears in that world – how does the balance of power shift and how would the three intelligent species react to each other? These are the questions Taylor Anderson attempts to answer in Destroyermen: Into the Storm, the first of a trilogy launched by Roc Books.
Anderson is a history teacher and military historian – these facts come through in the depth of detail he provieds about the War and the USS Walker itself, the Destroyer ship where much of the novel’s action takes place. The early portion of the novel (about 50 pages) is rife with much of these details; in fact, it was too much detail and weighed down the narrative a bit. Fortunately, once Anderson gets past this foundation, the plot kicks into gear. In the mids of losing a sea battle to the Japanse, Captain Matt Reddy orders the Walker to retreat into a a squall – a storm – in the hopes that the Japanse will not follow.
They certainly evade their enemies, but what they find poses a different, yet more complex problem. Soon, the crew realize they are “not in Kansas” anymore once they see dinosaurs being utilized as draft animals and lizardmen start attacking them when on land. They also come across what they call monkey-cats, but are actually highly evolved, sentient lemurs. Reddy and crew soon realize the Lemurians are in a protracted war with the Grik (the lizardmen). However, since so many years have passed since the Grik attacked the Lemurians, the Grik have primarily been boogeymen used to scare the Lemurian children. It isn’t long in the storyline of Into the Storm that the Grik make their presence known as fact rather than legend and attack the Lemurians. Reddy’s crew sees the attack and based on their past experience with the Grik, decide to help the Lemurians.
So that’s the basic plot of the story, how about the characters? On the whole, I think Anderson did a fairly decent job of rounding out the cast of characters. Not having been alive around WWII and only knowing of it through film and other literature, I would say Anderson’s depiction of their mindset and mentality is fairly consistent. Although Captain Reddy functions as the de-facto protagonist, Anderson interweaves enough plot strands to have a couple of secondary protagonists. Some may say there is a dearth of female human characters, but there weren’t that many women fighting during World War II. At times the dialogue comes across slightly contrived, as do a few of the background characters.
The Lemurians are depicted fairly well; again, not having met any intelligent non-humans a comparison is difficult, but Anderson played the cards with them pretty well. At times, the Lemurians held the humans in too much awe. What did impress me the most; however, was the Lemurian society Anderson created. Their history, religion, and floating “Homes” made for something that was both alien enough compared to human civilization yet with enough similarities to believe an intelligent species could develop along different lines on a parallel earth. I would have like to see more development for the Griks and whatever society they may have, but I suspect Anderson is going to reveal that in subsequent volumes. As they stand in Into the Storm, the Grik are merely savage fighting machines.
As the novel unfolds, Anderson hints at the connection between our world and the world into which the USS Walker crossed over through the Squall. The connection is initially somewhat telegraphed and the heart of it predictable, but Anderson smartly does not fully reveal all the connections. The strongest connection seems to be between the Lemurians and humans, but the air of dread hanging over a possible connection between the Grik and humans is palpable, and despite any victories enjoyed in Into the Storm portends more bloody battles to come.
Destroyermen: Into the Storm functions on a couple of different levels. It works as an introduction to a world both similar and alient to our own and sets the stage for events to follow. It is also a solid first novel from a promising author who, at the heart, seems to be having fun writing this series. His background in history, as I said, is quite evident and plays off (once the densely detailed beginning passes after about fifty pages) the fantastic parallel world he has created. Not an unflawed novel, but still quite entertaining. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Alternate History, Military History, Crossover Fantasy – all these flavrs of fiction are woven entertainingly together by Anderson. I’m looking forward to the second book, Destroyermen: Crusade.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford