It’s been over two years since I reviewed Kent Wayne’s (pen name) military science fiction novel Echo Vol I: Approaching Shatter. I’ve had volumes 2 and 3 on my Kindle Fire forever, but just hadn’t managed to get around to reading them (so many books, so little time). But then, I hit just the right break in my reading schedule and inserted Echo Volume 2: The Taste of Ashes.
Echo I set the stage for the action in Echo 2, which is an adrenaline-fueled, supercharged, watch-the-body-count-rise, military “gore-fest.” No kidding, for nearly the first half of the book, the protagonist Atriya is constantly battling hordes of enemy Dissidents without a single break.
In the book’s Afterword, Wayne admits he probably could have shifted the scene a little bit or avoided describing, second by second, everything Atriya was going through in microscopic detail. My personal opinion is that he should probably just repackage Vol I and II as a single novel, since it would even things out a bit.
I’m not being particularly critical when I say this. I enjoyed the action, although there were times when, even with the Crusader’s advanced augmentations, he seemed more superhuman than any of his contemporaries.
So what’s going on?
Atriya lives on a world called Echo, colonized from “Old Earth” a thousand years ago. It is ruled by the elite Regime who live in splendor on an orbiting platform, and who, thanks to bio-extending treatments, have a life span of about 500 years.
On the surface, citizens slave away to maintain the Regime’s lifestyle, and they’re kept in check by Enforcers, who are the regular police/soldiers, and advanced infantry called Crusaders or Crew. Atriya is Crew, but like all good protagonists in a dystopia, he starts questioning the system, thanks to monk and ex-Crew Verus, who has been teaching him hand-to-hand combat as well as Old Earth philosophy. However, in Vol I, she displays some amazing abilities that both puzzle Atriya, and start him on a journey, albeit however slowly, of self-discovery.
His problem is, that in a street fight, he maims his former sergeant who is a member of the Jury, a totalitarian religious order, and the consequence is when Atriya is sent on his next assignment to help put down a Dissident group in one of the cityscapes (scapes), he will be murdered by other advanced soldiers who are all Jury members. Even if he survives the battle, he’ll be killed by his own allies.
Oh, the Dissidents are a vast group of people who oppose the system, and it’s the job of Enforcers and Crew to put them down, and they seem to have a suicidal zeal when battling the vastly better equipped and trained Enforcers and Crusaders. There also is a mystery about who is equipping them, and how they command such an enormous number of troops.
At the end of Vol I, Atriya was on the verge of engaging the Dissidents with his partner Clement, another Crew who is a braggart and coward compared to Atriya’s Old Earth sense of honor and duty. Sometimes the dissonance between the two is jarring, and while every villain has his/her good points, every hero has his/her flaws. Clement doesn’t have a lot of redeeming qualities.
The entire novel occurs in the space of a single day except for the final few pages. It takes that long and that short a time period to break Atriya and nearly kill him. He faces a horrendous amount of physical and psychological trauma, and it’s amazing that he survived half of what he had to do.
The drawback at the end of the book was that there wasn’t a clear resolution. I know, the series is supposed to go for at least two more novels, but if Wayne handles combat fiction very well (and he has a military background to draw upon), his endings in both books make me say stuff like, “That’s it?” It was like the whole purpose of Vol II was to trash Atriya and to do so in the most detailed and exquisitely painful manner possible. It’s almost a stream of consciousness piece.
Pet peeve time, and maybe some folks out there can help me out. I’ve made the mistake in the past of referring to a firearm’s magazine as a clip. I’ve gotten nailed for it, too. Which makes me wonder why, with military experience, Wayne would use the terms “clip” and “magazine” interchangeably (never mind that his weapon is super futuristic)?
I think part of the issue with Vol II for me, is that people and concepts introduced in Vol I are either just lightly mentioned or passed over altogether. Of course, the POV for the entire book is Atriya’s, and it’s in a single day, and it’s wall to wall vicious combat, but there were lots of loose threads I was hoping would be, if not tied up, elaborated upon.
But I guess that what Vol III will be all about (and I’ve already started reading it).
I’ll predict that there’ll be two general reactions to Echo Vol II. The first will be those readers who thrive on action, shooting, and lots of explosions. On Amazon, they’ll give this book five solid stars (and as of this writing, 85% of 30 reviews are five star…the rest are four). The other group will be like me and say, I loved the book, but it needed to be more varied.
I know this is as much a spiritual journey for Atriya as a physical and psychological one, and Wayne’s setting the stage for all that, but like I said, if you could marry Vol I and II with maybe a hair of Vol III, the narrative might be more balanced.
I’ll be posting this review to Amazon after I do so on my blog. Four stars, Kent (sorry, but as you know, I’m a pretty tough reviewer). Can’t wait to dig into Vol III.