Devil Dogs in Space

Semper Mars - Ian Douglas

I read a little awhile go a blog by an author of science-fiction that called for a return to hard science-fiction. They wanted more stories that took science into account. So, a little more realistic, and less Star Wars. I admit over the years I have found little science-fiction that understands the sciences, let alone the fictional science it creates. Sometimes this presents a problem, but since story is the focus, not the science, a decent story can limp along with bad physics. Sometimes I have found science in storytelling in the sub-genre of military science-fiction. The genre is just what you might think, science-fiction from a military view. Most of the time there is an adherence to hard science, but also a tendency to flout patriotism, and military virtues, like ‘might makes right’. Sometimes it is just Jarheads in space, lots of violence, very little depth.

One author who specializes in this genre is Ian Douglas, a pen name for William H. Keith, Jr. Douglas served in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War. Those experiences influence his writing to be sure. He knows his combat and his understands the mind of the service personal. He is a very prolific author who writes in his own universes but also others, like Babylon 5, BattleTech and Doctor Who. While I am still working through a large franchise of his I have finished with the first installment, The Heritage Trilogy. While I have minor critical points, overall is was an entertaining trilogy.


The premise of the novels is that alien life came to earth in humanity’s distant past. They enslaved and used humans, maybe even took them off the planet to other worlds, even tinkered with their genetics. Sounds like Stargate, right? Humans from our future (2040-2067) begin to learn about this when scientists uncover archeological evidence of intelligent life on Mars in the first book. The upheaval that occurs from this find becomes the basis of the story. This also become the over all theme of the series. Each book discloses a new find and new problems surrounding that find. One of the pieces of the puzzle concerning this solar system’s past is that whatever life form enslaved humanity was wiped out by a much more powerful and ruthless life form, the Hunters of the Dawn. However, the books don’t rush to meet this advanced and blood thirsty race. They are more concerned about conflicts in our neighborhood. 

The trilogy really covers the politics surrounding the finding and acquiring of alien technology. In the first book, Semper Mars. the United States wants possession of the site on Mars and the well unified, and ‘villainous’, European Union doesn’t think America is trustworthy enough to gain access to any alien tech found there. So, a war breaks out, on Mars. There is a small contingent of Marines on Mars that have to face down a more powerful EU deployment. They are out numbered and out gunned, yet are determined to win. The rest of the trilogy runs much the same, different discoveries being made, the politics between nations, the politics between government and service personnel, the effects on earth of the uncovered alien sites and the conflicts that the good old U.S. Marines begrudgingly take on and win. 


Douglas’s politics, as far as storytelling goes, leaves something to be desired. In the simplest fashion, America is the hero, though he is not so heavy handed as some authors. He keeps people in perspective, so most have motivations that make perfect sense, even if they are with the evil EU. The scientific community portrayed in Douglas’s novels are only interested in science and would rather keep governments and their militaries away from their discoveries. Almost all the politicians are liars and cheats, so are the corporations that pay them. The only real honest people are the Marines, and yet they end up being the most two-dimensional characters. They become the good old boys and girls that are knowingly used by politicians to perform the dirty work and left to find some way to find honor and meaning in doing so.

So, this story is not truly character driven. The whole trilogy makes use of individuals, following them through their perspective of the events they are involved in, but these events take place quickly. So, there is no real development, instead you focus on the action, which is the strongest point in these novels. The action is not Hollywood, meaning, there are no fire-based explosions in the vacuum of space. This is where the science kicks in. In one battle scene on the Lunar surface there are space suited Marines bouncing in a semi-controlled fashion across the landscape while firing weapons without sound. A silent ballet of death. Douglas handles the hard science well in much of the writing and uses it to make some pretty powerful images and intense situations. Also, the tech he creates for his novels is not far off form what we already have, and what isn’t is still believable. He provides limitations to build a good story on.


In all, this first trilogy was fun. Each novel starts off slow, but that is because Douglas carefully builds the conflict, so the stakes are made clear to the reader. Then he lets loose some climatic ending, where plot, scientific understanding, and military experience all come in to play. While the people might not be that in depth, the mystery surrounding the alien threat is intriguing. The Hunters of the Dawn are only talked about in this trilogy, and their legacy is treated like a murder mystery that some people are trying solve in between moments of human pettiness. While these novels are not paragons of science-fiction literature, they are solid, hard sci-fi stories that provide a bit of mystery and action. Also, being just the first trilogy in a group of such trilogies, the story promises to become a lot more complex than the simple feuds of earth based governments and good old Uncle Sam patriotism. If you want to read something sci-fi, with good action that isn’t light-sabers but has old fashion Marines with high tech gear, I can suggest these novels.