Tanya Huff has started a new series, a spin-off of her Confederation novels, again featuring now former Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr leading a group of her former Marine comrades. Kerr may be out of the Marines, but she hasn’t left fighting for the Confederation: she and her team are now free-lancing for the Justice Department, doing those jobs that need to be done but that no one wants to admit any involvement in: call it “black ops,” with plausible deniability.
An Ancient Peace begins with Kerr and the human members of her team bottling up – literally – a rally by “Human’s First,” a speciesist Human supremacy group. This looks like a throwaway, but given the way these groups work, don’t count on them being finished.
Then the team are called into a briefing with representatives of the Intelligence Service – another black ops deal, but this one’s verging on the scary: someone has broken into tombs on the lost homeworld of the H’san, the Elder Race that created the Confederation after giving up war. Unfortunately, they didn’t destroy their weapons, and someone wants them. It’s obvious to everyone that if a) the weapons get out, and/or b) news of the attempt to steal the weapons gets out, it’s civil war, at the least.
Needless to say, mission accomplished, but at some cost. Torin, however, is not going to let the Intelligence Service or the Justice Department get away with a “thanks, see you sometime.” And being Torin Kerr, she gets what she wants: she and her team become Wardens, the Confederation police, so to speak, with a difference: they are Strike Team Alpha, still doing the jobs that no one wants to admit are being done, but now they’re official.
In A Peace Divided, the crisis, or soon-to-be crisis, again involves a weapon, but it’s only hypothetical: a team of scientists is performing the first investigations of a “new” planet, site of a vanished civilization – or civilizations, all of which seem to have vanished at the same time. Arniz, a soil scientist and the Niln equivalent of a Ph.D., discovers an anomaly while excavating a pit identified as a latrine: plastic residue, on a planet that hadn’t discovered plastics. (The science team is made up of Niln and Katrien researchers, both “Mid Races” in the Confederation, and one Human, who is their engineer and medic.) The scientists are interrupted by a group led by Commander Yurrisk, former Navy, his crew, and a group of mercenaries: they want the weapon, which they think is a weapon to destroy “plastic” (which in this context means the “sentient, polynumerous molecular polyhydroxide alcoholyde” aliens who caused a centuries-long war between the Confederation and the Primacy as a sociological experiment). The reaction of the research teams is “What weapon?” Yurrisk, however, is convinced, and has taken the precaution of including fighters from the Primacy on his team – they know, somehow, that it’s Kerr’s team that they’ll be confronting, if they wind up confronting anyone, and they figure the Primacy fighters will give them an advantage. What they don’t know is that Kerr’s team for this mission also includes ex-military from the Primacy.
What Huff is giving us here is some prime military sf cum thriller. There’s enough momentum to keep the stories going (usually) even when there’s no fighting going on, and there are enough unanswered questions – as in, who is behind all this? – to give us a larger mystery beneath the surface story.
There’s a lot more to these books than might be evident on first reading. The “Human’s First” rally is a sobering take on a certain kind of political campaign (and given that An Ancient Peace was published in 2015, it’s more than a little prescient). The subtext of this series, reflected in Torin’s character, is the damage war does — especially to the survivors. Major Sujuno di’Kail, the di’Taykan ex-Marine who leads the thieves in the first volume, saw her whole family wiped out, and we get a good sense of how important family is to the Taykan. Commander Yurrisk, a Krai who, because of war wounds, can no longer live in the trees — which is where the Krai live — lost most of the crew of his ship during the war; he’s gotten his hands on another ship, and is obsessed with the need to keep that ship flying and his crew safe. As for Torin, she is haunted by the former comrades she wasn’t able to save, and her concern for her own team, especially Craig Ryder, a former civilian salvage operator and her lover, and Alamber, a young di’Taykan man who was once part of a crime syndicate (taken out by none other than Torin Kerr) and who is now alone — and a lone di’Taykan is a sad creature indeed — color her reactions to the job — but not enough that she can’t get the job done.
And there’s enough politics involved, of the “us versus the bureaucracy” type, that Huff’s flair for satire gets full play.
These two are fun to read, engaging and witty, and there’s more to look forward to: by the end of A Peace Divided, we can identify the shadowy figure behind all of these attempts to find and/or resurrect ancient weapons (and behind Humans First, which has lost the apostrophe), and Kerr and her team have a good idea who it is, but that matter hasn’t been resolved.
And then there are the aliens, who said they were leaving. They said.
There’s at least one more book here, there has to be, and I for one, am looking forward to it.
(Daw Books, 2015)
(Daw Books, 2017)