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Battle of Phobos: Gongen Review

wars-phobosVrsB_coverBeing that I enjoyed the Earther books of the Wars series from Grail Quest Books so much, I decided to download and read the Gongen books to see how they fare.  And I must say, though very different and slower paced than the Earther books, they fared quite well indeed.

The Great Journey by:  Sean P. Williams

In the first book, we are introduced to two primary characters, Higen Shijin and his descendent, Higen Orochito.  These two characters are separated by over three hundred years, with Shijin’s story being told beginning on Earth in 2069 and Orochito’s on Gongen in 2388.  There are however, many common elements to their two lives.  Both men are driven in their work, driven so much that their work conflicts with their families.  They also rightly see their work as being important to the future of their people.  The biggest common thread though is the massive Artificial Intelligence known as Shocho, which we also met briefly in the Earther books. In The Great Journey we learn that Shijin developed Shocho as a means of controlling the power grid across all of Asia and presumably the world at some point.  As one can imagine, this is a task that becomes life consuming as unexpected problems arise and the system expands and changes faster than he can understand it. Orochito, is also trying to understand Shocho, which now basically controls the government of Gongen.  There is a human government as well but it doesn’t take long to realize that Shocho is more than capable of operating independently of it.  In fact, it is these independent operations that attract Orochito’s attention as he notices certain anomalies in Shocho’s resource management, anomalies that were also hinted at in the second Earther book.  His subsequent investigation soon disrupts Orochito’s life as a simple computer tech, involving him in political intrigue at the highest levels and culminating in Shocho finally revealing to him at least part of what it has been up to.  Both men also undergo something of an unexpected and sorrowful journey by the book’s end altering their own courses and that of their entire people as well.

Red Lion, Blue Lion by:  Sabrina Fried
Warning!  Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the firs book!  You have been warned!The second book, Red Lion, Blue Lion picks up where the first left off, with Orochito struggling to fulfill his new duties as Director of Takumi, the second largest of the Gongen cities.  This also puts him in the position of being the military leader of the city when he has never been in charge of so much as a squad before.  Naturally, he and others suspect Shocho’s hand in this but no one except Orochito has any idea why, and even he doesn’t really understand it. Orochito’s new position also puts him on the frontlines of politics, having to deal with the Maverick colony of Colocog and entertain Howard Martin, the head of the Earth Mission, a peace-keeping operation meant to smooth over relations between Earth and Gongen, a mission that has been less than successful. During a state function with Martin, Higen’s life takes a distinct turn for the worse as a raid on Takumi results in several ships being stolen, including several prototypes important for Gongen’s war preparations.  Coupled with the loss of hundreds of civilian lives, Orochito is thrown into disgrace.
Gongen, otherwise known as Mars
Gongen, otherwise known as Mars

This episode provides a glimpse of the darker side of Gongen honor as Orochito is blamed for the loss of the ships and subsequently threatened with execution if he fails to recover them.  Unlike Rogan Hallard in the Earther books, Orochito does not seem to question any of this and even seems to agree that his punishment is deserved.  That doesn’t mean that he’s a robot however.  In fact, he earns criticism (and praise) from various people for his creative thinking, especially on the battlefield. Along the way we learn more of Shocho’s plans for the war, the human government’s growing suspicion of their AI, and the fact that Orochito has an important role to play, a role that the end of the book makes clear will have him in the middle of the coming war.

The characters in both books are handled well.  Shijin in particular is done very well and his obsession with Shocho is palpable even has he struggles to stay connected to his family as well. Orochito is perfect as a committed member of Gongen society, dedicated to his work, his family (though problems develop with both) and yet is capable of operating on his own initiative as evidenced by the fact that he doesn’t really want to rush to war with Earth. The supporting cast is overall a little flat due not to any lack of skill on the part of authors but simply to a decision to focus primarily on Higen allowing us to get to know him in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.  That said, there are a couple of standouts in the previously mentioned Howard Martin and Naita, an important figure in the second book who clearly is shown to have some conflicts of interest with Higen.  We also get meet some more of the Mavericks, particularly Six-legged George.  I’m sure you can imagine what he looks like.
As before, these novellas can be found in the two Battle of Phobos collections Preludes and the recently released Stretti.  You won’t be sorry you checked them out and you’ll be up to speed when the third collection is released.

About thefairytaletraveler

Catholic father of five and life-long nerd, theviking began nerd life as a socially awkward Star Wars fan who then branched out into comics thanks a boring summer vacation. These days, he reads most anything, watches a number of nerdy shows, plays with his kids, works as a proofreader for the fine folks at Grail Quest Books and volunteers at his parish and kids' school.