Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Gears of War - Aspho Fields

Karen Traviss does a great job of bringing some Gears of War goodness to those of us who like to relax our trigger fingers once in a while. Traviss admits herself that she's worked on a lot of stuff in her day, tie-ins and the like and that not all of the varied franchises and projects have been particularly worthy. But Gears is different. She thinks it's special. I'm inclined to agree. Working on something you really love rather than it just being the latest meal ticket has really brought out the best in the writer, both in these books and her hands on work with the latest Gears game.
This one tells the untold Story of the battle for Aspho Fields. A battle we've heard about in the game that takes place several years before Emergence Day when the humans of Sera are still locked in a world war over Imulsion that has lasted the best part of a century. At this time they are unaware that another race called the Locust are biding their time beneath their feet, waiting for a good time to pop out and call 'Time' on human Seran history. The Cogs have discovered that the other power block are developing a weapon of mass destruction called The Hammer of Dawn at a research base at Aspho Point. Now at this stage Gears fans will most likely be grumbling that a Gears book without Locust is not something they signed up for. Traviss cleverly frames the pre-Emergence Day sequences with a story set between games 1 and 2, just after the deployment of the Light Mass Bomb. The Cogs are consolidating as best they can and are cautiously hopeful that the worst of the Locust threat has been dealt with. A face from the past in the form of a veteran female Gear called Bernie brings the past back to the surface. Dom Santiago wants to know the full story of the death of his brother Carlos at Aspho Fields. Marcus and Bernie were the only witnesses and neither are keen to talk about it. During an escort mission all the main characters get a chance to reflect and more of the story of the friendship of the brothers and Marcus gets revealed along with a lot of other stuff involving the feud between Hoffman and Fenix. These books can't tell the big story - that is for the games to tell, instead they tell the other stories that the games don't have time or the opportunity to tell. It's very well written with a great feel for the characters. All the dialogue just feels right, so much so that you can't help hearing the voice acted tones from the game; Fenix's tortured gravel, Cole's booming bonhomie, Baird's verbal sniping, Dom's quiet dignity, Hoffman's caricatured parade ground bark. And Traviss's new female characters fit in fine. The military attitudes are very believable. It's infantry soldiering with thoughtful introspection in a world that has become so desperate that the values of humanity are having to be sacrificed. Sure it still knows it's an actioner filled with chunky guys, chunky guns and chunky aliens... getting chunked, but it doesn't mean it has to be empty between the ears.
Even though fans of the game will get the most from this book I'm convinced that folks who enjoy gritty military sci-fi will still enjoy themselves. That was violent, reckless... and necessary! Well done.

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