The Clone Republic by Steven L Kent
Book One of the Clone Rebellion series.
Published by Titan Books UK, March 2013. (Review copy received)
Originally published in the US by ACE Science Fiction, 2006.
Review by Mark Yon
Titan Books in the UK are currently catching up on a lot of authors that our US readers have already met: Jack Campbell, Kevin J Anderson and John Birmingham, for example.
Their latest conscript is Steven L Kent, whose nine book series has already been quite popular in the US. The Clone Republic, the first in the series, is standard mil-SF for those who want to upgrade from those clones in the Star Wars novels. These are books that cover similar ground but are much more adult in nature (and please note, the language used often reflects this.)
It is the year 2508AD. The Unified Authority rules over the galaxy, using clones for much of its policing across the colonies. The story is told from the perspective of one of these clones, Private First-Class Wayson Harris, initially newly assigned to the small and obscure desert outpost of Gobi on a planet called Ravenwood. As a clone, he’s trained to obey without question, and clearly finds the rather laidback setup at Gobi disconcerting.
A most-wanted rogue ex-general attacks the base in an attempt to gain arms. Wayson saves the base and is promoted to become a corporal on the battle cruiser Kamehameha. Here the world of the Clone Republic suddenly becomes broader, as the view widens to events on a much wider scale. We discover more about the difficulties of implementing a ‘one size fits all’ policy for the Unified Authority as Wayson and the battle cruiser Kamehameha are sent to the planet Ezer Kri to deal with an incident: namely that the planet wants to rename itself and follow old Japanese traditions, something seen as against the principles of the Republic. Add to this an embittered troop Sergeant from an earlier war, political infighting between the senior officers of the Republic and a lead character trying to come to terms both with his own identity and casual racism whilst battling in difficult circumstances and you have a mix that fans will find attractive.
Part of this attraction may be that initially, for all intents and purposes, the book doesn’t stray too far from the tried and trusted model for military stories. The Marines of 2508 pretty much act and talk like soldiers in 2013. What happens here on a desert-type world in 2508 is very similar to, say, Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan in 2013, a point further emphasized when some of the hardware used has familiar names such as Harrier and Tomahawk which could place the book as easily in the 1980’s as the 2500’s. This reminds the reader that a Marine is a Marine, regardless of time, and nothing really changes that, whether now or in the future. Here they complain, gamble, sleep around and fight one another like any other typical armed force, past, present and (presumably) future.
Think The Hurt Locker but in an SF setting.
At about halfway through the tale my thoughts were that Clone Republic was solidly entertaining, easy to read and a good page turner. The battle scenes were suitably visual and emotive, the main character likeable and engaging, if a little naïve. I thought I pretty much had it pegged as a book that told a standard mil-SF plot that highlights the importance of comradeship and loyalty, even when stupid decisions, resource issues and incompetent leadership do their best to destroy that.
Well, it is that. But what elevates this book a little is that there are some interesting points made along the way about the logistics of running a large Republic state based on Plato’s ideals. Whilst the idea is laudable, the reality of such a society is quite different, and Steven does a good job of getting that point across by showing us the ambiguity of such a society. In a universe where people are spread over vast distances and views are various, the author gives good reasons why Space Empires probably wouldn’t work, or at least have to use extreme measures to maintain some degree of order.
Whilst the book deals with such issues, it will work best for many readers because, perhaps most of all, this is a book that shows the life journey of a man in a difficult situation. Wayson starts as a naïve and unquestioning clone and by the end of the book realises his place in the bigger picture. It’s a book that gets you to question authority whilst maintaining loyalty and comradeship, and has a nice twist at the conclusion that leads (no doubt) to the next book in the series.
Despite what might appear to be a rather gung-ho nature in the book initially, there’s some developments towards the end of the book that suggest that the book isn’t as conservatively right-wing as you might have expected at first, and caused me to revise my mid-point assessment. In the end, this is a book that delivers what you expect and doesn’t disappoint on that score. It’s exciting and well written, showing the reader that future conflict can be just as difficult, complex and dangerous as it is now. A no-frills, recommended read for mil-SF fans that know what they want and expect it from their reading material, but it also makes them think about the consequences of some of the actions undertaken here in a way that George Lucas hasn’t.
I’m pleased that Titan are catching up with the series by releasing the books in batches, one month apart. I want to read the next book in the series now, which can only be a good thing.
Mark Yon, March 2013