Monday, February 14, 2011

One of science fiction’s most outstanding rising stars

Remnant by Roland Allnach Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

One of science fiction’s most outstanding rising stars, the talented author Roland Allnach, has an anthology of three creative and brilliant novellas out now, Remnant, that should be a hit with anyone who loves science fiction, in general, and the Military SF genre in particular. He’s already had one of his short stories nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and he’s had several of them appear in various publications. Remnant’s three novellas, “All the Fallen Angels,” “Enemy, I Know You Not,” and “Remnant,” mark a distinct growth for the author, and each are gems of suspense and craftmanship that will keep you on the edge of your seat. They’re all great stories on their own merits, but collected together in the pages of this anthology, they make for a must-read volume. In this review, I’ll briefly discuss each of the three novellas that make up Remnant and get into some of the reasons I think each one is worth reading, and why the name of Roland Allnach is rapidly garnishing the attention of science fiction fans around the world.

“All the Fallen Angels,”starts off the anthology with a bang. Captain Stohko Jansing (he was a Colonel and is referred to as such in scenes from his past in the short story) has had a history that was both distinguished and infamous, in turn. He is haunted by his memories of what happened to him on the beautiful and spell-binding planet Hermium, how he went from being a peacekeeper to a killer, and his and his wife’s desires to have children. Stohko discovers he can’t escape his past, and having been put on trial for his war-crimes, including shooting and killing a nine-year-old girl.

He is the captain of his own ship, trying to leave his past behind him, but he’s drawn back into dealing with the military when an IS agent, Colonel Osler, makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Stohko’s ship will be repaired, and his mounting debts paid off, if he will agree to towing a ship, the Chyrsopoeia, to Hermium to dump it off there. It’s a high-risk transport–Stohko is not told what is inside the ship, but it seems that whatever it is makes the job one no one else wants to take. It’s a cursed ship, that even its rats abandoned. But, can he and his crew make it to Hermium, without an effect known as Hermium euphoria driving them to actions they wouldn’t ordinarily commit?

“Enemy, I Know You Not,” is an excellent story about what happens when one’s enemies can attack you, even in the realm of virtual reality, within one’s own mind, and transform people who are seemingly your allies into your enemies. What can you do to fight an enemy who knows how to infiltrate your mind, and make you into a mole, ready to turn against and kill people on your own side? And, when you realize that it might be yourself who is the traitorous mole, acting against your own will, can you live with the guilt? When virtual reality becomes actual reality, and your actions cause your fellow soldiers to die, is there any way to right the wrongs you’ve committed?

That’s the basic premise of “Enemy, I Know You Not.” Training Officer Sheffield has got some “new meat,” trainees who are inexperienced, to replace those Sergeant Ellister and Lieutenant Hovland lost in their mission to end an insurgency that took place on the planet Tropico. Before the new soldiers engage in battle, they have to undergo a virtual training exercise, or “sim run”. They are linked up together, and while unconscious, engage the enemy in a training exercise. They can be “killed,” but as long as they are awakened in time, they will return back to life. But, if too much time elapses, they cannot be brought back, and they will die in reality. This is a very cool story, and I liked reading about what happens when the men finally realize they have a traitor in their midst, and wonder who it is, and paranoia strikes a chord of fear in them.

The final tale in the trilogy, the title story, “Remnant,” is a suspenseful, page-turning conclusion to the anthology. It’s about what happens when a terrible plague hits the Earth, and kills billions of people. Only one in fifty thousand are left alive, those who have a natural immunity. This story is about how one of humanity’s “remnants,” a man known in it as Peter, tries to survive and start a new life for himself in Connecticut. Pockets of the survivors have gathered together, for basic protection and to better obtain the necessities of life, like food, shelter, and clothing for everyone. But, this also means living under the rules of the community, and giving up a part of one’s freedom. Will the plague prove to be a chance for mankind’s remnants to create a better world for themselves, or will it only result in a return to how they were prior to the plague?

Peter (teamed up with another survivor, Jim MacPherson) rescues a woman, Emily Lewis, from a man who has been chasing after her for two days. The man claims to be a cop, but Peter believes he’s been trying to catch Emily for other reasons, so he shoots and kills the man. Peter rationalizes that if he hadn’t killed the man, he would have come back, and tried to kill them. Will he find love with Emily, or is she just using him, trying to recruit him to her point of view? This concluding story is probably my favorite of the three. Each deals with the decisions we sometimes have to face, and how are lives, and those of others, is effected by them. Do our choices, like those of Peter’s in “Remnant,” make us “more human,” or “less human”?

Remnant is an action-packed anthology of Military SF, with the title story dealing with how mankind’s remnants survive after a global plague. Each of the three novellas is a beautifully crafted gem of a story, making the collection one I would highly recommend to any fans of science fiction. Roland Allnach is an author who is one of SF’s rising stars, and if you like Military SF, this is an anthology you’ll definitely want to check out!

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