Full disclosure: I received this book as a gift from the author. Yes, authors, you heard that right: you can ask to send me your book, and I will read and review it.
So here we are again. The Epic series had kind of fallen off my radar for a while. I read the previous book, Hero way back in 2009! So it has been quite some time since I last hung out with Scott Remington and the Fourteenth of Novosibirsk. That’s a shame; I don’t exactly have time to re-read Hero, so I had to rely on any kind of recap available in Glorious Becoming to remember what was going on. Some of it came back easily, while other parts are probably still missing. The tight arc for this series’ plot and characters means that you are better off starting with the first book.
Four books in and Scott and his comrades are fighting a war that doesnt make sense. Aliens—the Bakma, Ceratopians, and Ithini—attack Earth intermittently, and the Earth Defense Network (EDEN) repels them. Why would aliens send down ground troops when they can just wipe us out with some carefully-placed tactical nukes? Or devastate our communications by detonating nuclear devices in the upper atmosphere? Or sneeze on us with their alien germs? Ground invasions make no sense.
But Lee Stephen knows this. It’s part of the plan. The war is a facade, a means to an end, and in Glorious Becoming, that end starts becoming clearer. (It is not, at least from the human perspective, all that glorious.) Up until now we’ve only had the fuzziest notion that what Judge Benjamin Archer and his co-conspirators are doing is not above board. Now the specifics of the situation are coming into focus, and it’s not good. The Bakma and Ithini are pawns; the Ceratopians might be good guys; there’s another alien species out there that holds one sex of each species hostage to ensure their obedience … I won’t go into spoiler territory here, but suffice it to say that if the previous books left you frustrated by the vagueness of the conspiracy angle, Glorious Becoming delivers some much-needed information.
I’m loving the conspiracy, not so much the uncovering of it. At times, Scott and the Fourteenth resemble the kids from Scooby-Doo, though they don’t so much split up and look for clues as they do sit around carefully honing their theories. Except that, from a few disparate pieces of information and some suspicions, they manage to close in on the truth rather easily. To be fair, Stephen lampshades this, with Svetlana pointing out that one can’t just jump to conclusions … but they kind of do. Moreover, the entire scene struck me as a clumsy way to advance the plot and move our protagonists from ignorance to enlightenment. Four books in, I’m glad we’re starting to get traction on this, but I could have gone for something more subtle, something as stylish and cleverly executed as the devious plot against Novosibirsk orchestrated by Archer. That was cool.
So Archer, Blake, and the other conspiring judges are bad guys, right? Yes. Maybe. I don’t know … they’re lying, certainly, but it also seems like they genuinely believe what they are do is in humanity’s best interests. It’s a fine line, and maybe they’ve crossed it—but we don’t have all the information yet. This moral ambiguity is what keeps Glorious Becoming’s antagonists from slipping down the steep slope of nefarious villainery right down to the moustache-twirling bottom. They are probably doing the wrong thing—but maybe they are doing it for the right reasons?
Isn’t that, after all, what Scott and his crew spend most of their time doing? Glorious Becoming really kicks off after Scott, Esther, Jay, Auric, and Boris are sent to Cairo on a clandestine operation. That’s right: EDEN operations being sent to spy on another EDEN base. That General Thoor is one messed up dude. The trouble is, Scott, despite all the things he has done during his fall into the Nightmen, is still a nice guy. He likes (maybe more than likes) his new commanding officer, Captain Natalie Rockwell. She likes (probably more than likes) him. So he wrestles with the ethics of lying to her, pretending to be the genuine article when in fact he is planning to betray her and orchestrate a Ceratopian jailbreak before returning to Novosibirsk. At the same time, he has to deal with the fractures within his squad as a result of conflict between him and Esther and Varvara’s cuckolding of Jay from the previous book. Oh, and Thoor keeps holding Svetlana over Scott’s head like a … well, like a hostage.
The acronym for the situation is “FUBAR”. Or, in this case, “VUBAR”, since Stephen insists on using made-up profanity. But it is messed up: ethically, politically, and personally. War is hell.
While we’re on the matter of personal problems and Scott and Esther and Scott and Natalie (and Scott and Svetlana, for that matter) … can we please stop having all these women fall for Scott? I know he’s rugged and handsome and has that Midwestern All-American Heart-of-Gold Good-Soldier Award grafted to his chest … but it’s just awkward. It’s not that Scott’s a Mary Sue—he certainly has his flaws—but he can’t go for a walk without stumbling over a chick who’s hot for him.
Glorious Becoming also adds an unconventional cast member: Tauthin the Bakma has an expanded role. Scott makes some progress communicating/interrogating him, and Svetlana does even better. Not only does his alien perspective provide a valuable source of exposition, but I always enjoy when we get to know “the enemy” better. Svetlana’s compassion, and Tauthin’s decision towards the end of the book despite everything else he does, provide an intriguing set up for things to come even as they demonstrate that not all is black and white. Some enemies are enemies, some could be allies, and some are probably a fair way in between.
It’s difficult for me to compare this book to its predecessors because of the large gap—but I’ll try. Whereas the previous books have focused a lot on action and chronicling Scott’s rise through the ranks to a position of leadership, Glorious Becoming puts on the brakes in that respect. There are a few action scenes—particularly the harrowing sequence after Scott’s team’s cover is blown in Cairo—but the bulk of this book consists of suspense and the gradual unspooling of mystery. Thanks to the clandestine operation at Cairo, Archer’s plot against Novosibirsk, and yes, the romantic shenanigans, Glorious Becoming is a solid story in its own right. On the other hand, in many ways it also feels like a bridge into the next book, where I presume the new political reality in which Scott finds himself will require dramatic changes in tactics and priorities.
Military science fiction, particularly near-future stuff, isn’t always my cup of tea. I’m more about the technology and its implications, and aside from some cool fighter jets and an alien spaceship, that’s largely absent from the Epic series. Fighting a war against extraterrestrials has led to a few advances, but from what we get to see, life outside the military is pretty much like it is in the present day. What the series lacks in gadgets, though, it makes up for in story—intriguing ideas about wars that aren’t really wars and alien chess games in which Earth, and humanity, are just a tiny corner of a galactic gambit.