21 November 2015

FWS Book Review: The Last Hero by Nathaniel Danes

The genesis of interstellar conflicts has been a topic greatly explored by science fiction writers and creators since the beginning of the genre with HG Wells' War of the Worlds. So much so, that FWS has an entire blog serial devoted to the topic, and I'm always keeping my eyes open for new works with solid reason for wars in outer space. That is when I discovered The Last Hero by Nathaniel Danes, and after reading the excerpt, I knew I had to read his book, because it mirrored a book I have in-production and it gave one of the most concrete reason for interstellar conflict: planetary atmospheric standard real estate...and because it was solid military science fiction.

The Setting
Trent Maxwell is a man out of time. He was the last Medal of Honor winner and a damn fine infantry commander that has proven himself on the battlefield for his country many times. However, when the friendly alien race known as the Kitrights arrived on Earth, Maxwell's chosen profession ceased to exist due to an outbreak of global peace and a new understanding among nations. Trent Maxwell, Medal of Honor winner became an insurance salesman for his Father-in-Law firm, as colonial expeditions to an Earth-like world are mounted. The future it seems, is one without war. For year, all seems bright and shiny...until they came and attacked. An unknown hostile feline alien race attacks and destroys the colonial settlement on New Earth, propelling the Earth to rebuild their nearly extinct military organizations. Then warfighters like Trent Maxwell are asked, once again, to fight the good fight, but this time it is for the future of the species. But at what cost to the warfighters? What price will Maxwell pay?

The Spoiler-Free Review of The Last Hero
One of the struggles of any writer/creator is having something new to say about a familiar setting/situation, and wars being waged over interstellar real estate is common.It takes talent to set your work apart without making it an oddity. That is the ultimate question for The Last Hero, did author Nathaniel Danes set his work apart from the others? The answer is yes. At its center, The Last Hero is a novel about the sacrifice that soldiers make on the battlefield, and the impact of those sacrifices have. That fact is only compounded to a greater extent by the horrors of time dilation. We have seen this in characters like William Mandella from the The Forever War and Cooper from Interstellar, but Mr. Danes does something different with his primary character Trent Maxwell that harkens to those other characters, but makes Maxwell's sacrifices deeper and more painful, and thankfully avoids the "stranger in a strange land" trope that The Forever War mines liberally and exhaustively. Danes expertly weaves hard emotions and even harder choices for Trent when he is forced to leave his family to fight among the stars. Some of the scenes are damn powerful, and the overall book is strengthened by those key scenes. The other aspect of The Last Hero that was done in a refreshing manner is Trent's talent for being a soldier. Often in modern polite society we avoid discussing one inescapable fact about some soldiers: they are good at what they do and they have a need to do that job. Mr. Danes does not shy away from having Trent think this several times, and how excited he is to leave his insurance job for the armed expeditionary force.
That life-altering moment for the primary character is within the first few pages of the 316 page novel, thrusts the reader into the situation rapidly. This allows the reader to know that this book will be about the war and not Maxwell's home life. While others may think it needed more at the beginning, I liked this, and there is enough character inner reflection to make up for it. The war itself is told in a similar manner to The Forever War, where an expeditionary force goes, fights an battle or two, and then comes back to an altered world due to time dilation. This is another good point in favor for The Last Hero, the changes reflect the war expanding and Earth's response. It reminded me of how the United States geared up for World War II after years of military dormance. The expeditionary forces also encounter more advanced alien technology due to the time shift
which I greatly enjoyed.
Several things I greatly enjoyed as well was the way that the author presents the battles and the gear that the members of 1st Legion use. There is enclosed combat environmental suits, KEW rifles, magazine-fed grenade launchers, and various exo-planet environments and terrains. He actually thought about weapons and gear, which is a nice touch. Mr. Danes was also inventive with the combat scenarios seen in the book, especially one taking place on an alien space station. I do wish that some scenes were spaced out more, especially those concerning Maxwell's return to Terra and his interactions with his family and society at large. These scenes are highly concentrated with a great deal happening, and they would have benefited from some more breathing room to have a more natural flow. However, the strength of the writing and characters pays off carrying the story and reader through these patches. Another element that I wanted more of was the enemy itself: the Bearcats. I wanted to know more about them, and I believe that since The Last Hero is part one of a trilogy, that information is coming, but there is only hints. That is one of the perils of writing a series of books from the beginning, authors tend to hold back, often making some of the events seem half-baked when it is according to the grand plan. Fortunately, The Last Hero read wells and does not suffer from that syndrome as much. By the end of the 300+ pages, there is a twist, and it did have me buying part two...and that is the best compliment: you want more.

The Interview with the Author Nathaniel Danes (Conducted on November 7th

1. Tell us about the genesis of The Last Hero and why you decided to the set the first battle on Terra's first off-world colony.

ND: The true genesis of The Last Hero was the birth of my daughter. I thought I knew what love was before I had a child, I was wrong. I wasn’t prepared for the raw emotional gut punch it is to hold your own child for the first time. Those feelings bleed into the stories that are always bouncing around in my head and here we are now. The story begins with a humanity just beginning to explore the galaxy and they are ignorant about the vast majority of it. That naiveté is important to the story’s first phase.

2.   Why did you decided to write within the genre of military sci-fi? Do you have an interest in the genre?

ND: My first advice to any writer would be to write what you’d want to read. I once was on the path toward a military career and extensively studied military history to prepare myself for it. I also have a love for SciFi, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc… The two just are a natural fit for me. To this day I pretty much only read military history and military SciFi.

3.  Tell us about some of your favorite military science fiction works or works that inspired you to write The Last Hero. Was it The Forever War?

ND: The Forever War certainly played a big role in my writing career. It in fact, was the first military SciFi novel I ever read and hooked me on the genre. I also enjoy reading B.V Larson’s Star Force and Undying Mercenaries series, Jay Allan’s Crimson Worlds, Vaughn Heppners Invasion America series. And of course, Old Man’s War.

4.   While the book focuses on the expeditionary Earth forces and Trent Maxwell, the story elements dealing with Trent's relationship with his wife and daughter were heartbreaking and remind me of the heartbreak that most of our soldiers experience when they go off to war. Why did you decided to include these family elements in the book?

ND:  Some military SciFi can lack heart and/or gloss over the emotional toll war wrecks on soldiers as you move from battle to battle. Bringing the element of family into the story gives it depth and adds another angle to explore the characters’ journey through this universe.

5. Your main character Trent Maxwell is multi-layered, and deeply explored in the novel, making me believe that Trent is someone you know. Is Trent or any of his team based on anyone you know? And how did you approach designing the character?

ND:  All of the characters are, to at least some degree, based on people in my life. When I imagine the person I want for a particular role, I think of someone I know who is like that and ask myself what would they do. I carry that formula throughout the work.

6.   Your novel is mostly populated with military characters that are mostly seem upper-tier warfighters. What was the challenge for you writing characters like this?

ND:  Making sure their realistic. While I prepared for several years to become an officer in the Army, my career was cut dramatically short with a medical discharged due to a genetic disorder that is causing me ot lose my sight. Given that lack of real work experience, it can be easily to make military characters seem totally unbelieveable. I hope I managed to capture them.

7.  Why did you base the Earth Legion around the Ancient Imperial Roman military?

ND:     One, I think the reason given in the novel is legitimize for doing so. Secondly, for my own fun. I love Roman military history and thought, why the hell not.

8.     I thought an interesting element to the character of Trent Maxwell is his natural talent and ability for combat and war in general. We, in proper society, often attempt to not address the natural talent that some warfighters have for their craft because it involves death and killing. How did this come about in your character? Was it a social commentary?

ND:    There wasn’t an arterial motivation for making him that way. It’s who he is at his core, a warrior. He is so much more than that, though and that creates conflict within. He deeply misses home but knows he is where he belongs, doing what he was built for. He makes no apologies for who he is. He didn’t ask for war and had made a life without it but when duty calls, he will answer it.

9.    In your novel, the Legion expeditionary forces use magnetic kinetic energy weapons, like the MRC. Why did you decided to arm the Legionnaires with these types of futuristic weaponry instead of the more the classic sci-fi directed energy or even caseless weaponry?.Also, What was your general approach to the human and the Bearcat technology presented in The Last Hero? For example, in the HALO universe, the UNSC uses kinetic while the Covenant uses directed energy weaponry. Being an Texan, I also enjoyed the inclusion of the Bowie Knife!

ND:     I went that way because that’s the direction I think our science will take us. Direct energy weapons, scaled down for individual use, will have serious drawbacks, even a couple hundred years from now. The Legion’s rifles give them better rate of fire and more ammo not to mention their effectiveness isn’t limited by foggy weather or rain. As for the weaponry the Bearcats use, I based that on their biology. Their a large species and their rifles reflect what would be the best fit for them. And if you were going into a fight against a Bearcat, you’d want a Bowie knife too.

10.  Your characters use grenades a number of times, which is special and rare among military sci-fi literary works. Tell us why you decided to include grenades, especially ones loaded from a magazine like the HK XM25

ND:   I envision they will have great utility in future wars. Advanced science makes them small but lethal. Add in the fact that they can be programmed to detonate at pre-assigned distance, something we can do now with some rifles still in R&D, gives them great flexibility on the battlefield.

 Why did you decided to use feline-like alien basis for the Bearcats? Was it due to feline aliens like the Kilrathi from Wing Commander?
ND: You know, it just kinda worked out that way. I can’t really examine it. When I thought of these aliens, I saw feline type creatures. Who knows why, I sure don’t?

12.  Do you think that the social horrors and logistical issues of Time Dilation will rule out interstellar war?

ND:     I like to believe we will one day figure out warp drive, NASA’s actually doing some incredible work on it to get us there 100 years from now, or find another solution like in my novel. But, we may never. In that case, interstellar war will be very difficult but not impossible. I have dark faith that mankind will figure out a way to wage war despite great distances and relativity. Think, self-sustaining military forces with a feudal political system.

13.  Unlike The Forever War or even Interstellar, Trent comes back to future Earth that is different, but he still understands. The Earth he left to go to war, and the Earth he comes back to are still similar. Did you decided not to alter the Earth to the extreme of The Forever War?

ND:  The reason you saw such change in Interstellar and The Forever War is because it was negative change. Think going from the height of the Roman Empire to the depths of the Dark Ages while my novel goes from the heart of the Renaissance to the late 18th century. Its change but along the same path that the person left.

14.  What does the future hold for your series and your writing as a whole? I notice that The Last Hero is a trilogy. Any plans to write more stories in The Last Hero universe?

ND: Book 2, The Last Revenge is already out and the final installment, The Last Charge of the 1st Legion will be out very soon. I can one day envision another trilogy in this universe but not for some time. I have other stories in my head I need to get out.

15.  Now that the book is out for the public consumption, and while your Amazon reader reviewers are very positive, what changes would you have made to The Last Hero?

ND:  Thanks to my editors, my writing has gotten a lot better, I at least like to think so. When I go back and read passages from The Last Hero I often go, oh gees, I’d write that differently if I could. But it is what it is and those changes would really just be cosmetic. The story would still be 100 percent what it is now.

Should You Read The Last Hero?
Yes. To me, The Last Hero is a solid military science fiction tale with mileage left in the tank to carry the characters and setting through the next two books that Mr. Danes has laid out. There is easily enough here in these pages to fully recommend the book. The Last Hero has the punch of great action scenes, wrenching emotion situations and good world-building to keep your attention and offer you something interesting. I will be reading the next two installments of this series, because the twist was just that good and so is his central character.

Next Time on FWS...
A few months ago, FWS started a new blog series about profiling the most common fictional military organizations. For the next installment of that serial, we will be profiling the protectors of the United Federation of Planets....Starfleet. So, join FWS next time after the Thanksgiving break, when I will fully demonstrate how much I know about Star Trek and how much of an (ex) Trekkie I am. Until next time...

Like What You Read? Buy It Here and Support FWS!

No comments:

Post a Comment