Space Aliens, with a twist
In MARINE by Joshua Dalzelle, nothing is as it seems. Anything told to us may end up a lie, or not the full truth. This MARINE review contains no spoilers.
The prologue tells us aliens have attacked the Earth twice, and both times the aliens demanded a single man be turned over to them for punishment as an interstellar criminal. The guilty man’s name was Jason Burke. Remember that name.
In the end, friendly aliens drove away both attacks and introduced Earth into the wider world of galactic politics. Four big powers rule the galaxy, but vast stretches of space are lawless. Many species of aliens live out there, from toxic lizard men to “synths,” robots who overthrew their creators.
Jake the Snake
The protagonist of MARINE, “Jacob Brown,” at first seems an ordinary cadet enrolled in the Naval Academy. In the first of many reveals, Jacob has a secret.
His special ancestry and gifts lead to his (coerced) recruitment into Scout Fleet, the Force Recon of the space age. Combination Spec Ops and espionage force, Scout Fleet keeps tabs on what goes on “out there” in the alien-controlled areas of the galaxy to prevent Earth from being caught by surprise by another alien attack.
Jacob didn’t want this. He wanted to command a spaceship, not be a grunt carrying a rifle. He didn’t sign up to be a spy, either. Of course, as the plot unfolds, both vocations grow on him.
Scout Fleet assigns Jacob to a critical mission before he can start training. The mission is to retrieve an alien spy from a far-away planet deep in hostile space. With Jacob are the pilot, the ship’s engineer, two grunt Marines and his mentor, a mysterious man named Mosler. Not everyone on the team is who they seem to be. Surprise.
The team discovers their target is not only difficult to locate but isn’t who they expected. Nor is the mission as simple as it appeared. Everything in the galactic underworld is complicated. The mission goes off track, things go wrong, and Jacob finds himself thrust into the role of team leader. Can he rise to the occasion and lead the team to victory?
The theme of the book is a boy becoming a man. Jacob begins as a whiny teenager with daddy issues and, through trial by fire, develops into a mature leader of men. He makes enough decisions and moral choices for the end of his journey to feel earned. He has special gifts, but they don’t overpower the story or his character development. Jacob chooses his destiny by the end of the book.
The overall universe resembles a John Scalzi novel, with aliens near enough to human for the reader to understand but strange enough to add color. It has the same feel as a Scalzi novel, with an upbeat tone and a lack of dark elements. Dalzelle’s MARINE is a big adventure, not an ordeal.
Marine in space, but not a Space Marine
MARINE isn’t so much a military sci-fi novel as a fun romp in a galaxy full of aliens. I do not mean that as criticism. The pages turn themselves. I read the book in one sitting and was curious about what further adventures Jacob would pursue.
I recommend Marine by Joshua Dalzelle to fans of science fiction, galactic empire science fiction, military science fiction and space opera.