Review: “Lucky Universe,” Joshua James

Pros: Fascinating new universe; great combat scenes
Cons: Somewhat confusing in places; opening didn’t grab me
Rating: 4 out of 5

Joshua James’s Lucky Universe: Lucky’s Marines | Book One is a great military sci-fi novel about a bunch of Frontier Marines and a severely messed-up marine called Lucky. He has a reputation of being able to survive anything, but he feels that his life is anything but lucky. The Empire marines are being dropped in on a Union planet with very little information about why they’re there–especially once the ship dropping them off blows up due to apparent sabotage and some truly alien weaponry gets deployed against them. It’s all they can do to make it down to the surface alive, and then they have to avoid getting blown up. Lucky and his compatriots find a couple of scientists and make for a possibly-invulnerable alien ship, having no idea how or whether they’ll be able to take off in it. Lucky has an ace in the hole, though: his onboard AI has some unusual advantages–and a unique personality. There’s just one additional problem. Lucky has nightmares about aliens experimenting on him, and sometimes he gets taken over by something he calls the Hate, that causes him to revel in death and destruction.

I didn’t get pulled in by the opening, which introduces us to the alien tech and its effects on Union personnel. The scenes are chaotic and the characters seem over-the-top. However, once the story focused on Lucky it hit its stride. There’s constant combat and excitement and it gets pretty intense. We do see good plot progress on the nature of Lucky’s differences from his compatriots and on the alien technology that’s affecting the Union personnel. However, there isn’t enough context to make the Union entirely make sense. I couldn’t understand why some Union people were mindless puppets of the alien technology (even having gouged out their own eyes), while other personnel seemed normal. I also couldn’t understand how the aliens accomplished certain things (sorry; I’m deliberately being vague to avoid spoilers). It feels as though the author’s choice to focus on Lucky left some of the surrounds unexplained. The relationship between the Union and the aliens confused me.

That said, there’s enough good military sci-fi material in here that I plan to continue reading the series! I particularly enjoyed finding out more about Lucky, his AI, and the Hate. The universe James has created is interesting and his ability to sketch out action and combat is impressive. The fight scenes are fast-paced and intense. I also liked the main characters and look forward to seeing more of them.

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