Review: “Invasive Species,” Ben Stevens

Rating: 3 out of 5

Ben Stevens’s science fiction novel Invasive Species is the start of a series. I did enjoy this volume, but not enough to read the rest.

We’re decades post-Storm, when the very face of the earth changed. Many died. Aliens started appearing in what are called “Drops,” which seem to come out of nowhere with no rhyme or reason. Chairman Accoba Warbak of the Human Republic somehow came into power, and he hasn’t aged since then. He’s also a complete megalomaniac, ruling this one bastion of human civilization with an iron fist. He has troops of all kinds–Heavies (mechs), Hoppers (soldiers in flying suits), Scrubbers (odd people who seek out those who shape “Strange”–or do magic–and kill them), and so on. We’re just in time for the first graduating class of “New Breed” soldiers, those who have been genetically engineered to be the best. Jon and Carbine are in this graduating class. Jon absolutely believes in the Republic, so when a famous singer, Lily Sapphire, touches his mind with Strange, he turns her in. What he doesn’t realize is that she planned on that, and is sure she’ll be able to count on his help to get back out again. She and her allies are going to take Jon and Carbine on a journey in which the two young men will learn to see the truth of their lives–and they hope to take down Warbak at the same time.

There’s some time at the beginning when there are characters sitting in a tavern picking up rumors and it feels like a D&D game (not in a good way), but luckily this doesn’t last long. The first section of the book is slooow and full of capitalized terms (all the ones in the paragraph above plus things like Harvesters (a certain type of hostile alien), Sniffers, the Resistance, and the Strange. I really liked the combat sequences (which are very creative since there are so many different kinds of soldier and Resistance member, and Strange can be shaped in creative ways). This is the real strength of this book.

The Chairman is definitely a stereotypical villain. He even monologues like one–the graduation speech for the first class of New Breed is an evil villain speech if I’ve ever heard one. There’s also the usual military school bully. Most of the rest of the characters, however, get more interesting. There’s a very deadly woman named Lucy who is absolutely devoted to Lily (whose real name is Maya). There’s a good array of Resistance characters. But Colonel Taylor is the stereotype of the jaded older military man who takes advantage of his position and does whatever he wants in his little fiefdom. This is made weird because he’s also a stereotype in terms of how he talks, which is very much a stereotype in our time period–he feels like an anachronism. Also, there’s a gang that shows up that’s incredibly stereotypical.

When Jon and Carbine head to their first post-graduation assignment, they’re shocked to find that the soldiers already out in the field absolutely do not match their idea of how soldiers behave. They rape “Drop-trash” (aliens), they kill civilians, and they deal with Harvesters. I don’t understand what the purpose was of teaching the New Breed such traits as honor and loyalty if that was going to be detrimental to incorporating them into the rest of the Chairman’s forces. The State raised and trained the New Breed after all, so it should have been able to mold them and their expectations in whatever way it wanted. Also, it felt like Jon turned toward helping the aliens too quickly given he’s been told all his life that they’re basically evil.

SPOILER WARNING: The part that made me enjoy the story despite the above is a sort of mythological underpinning to what’s going on. Maya (Lily) claims to be a goddess who has existed for thousands of years. She thinks she can find the location of a mythological item that can tip the balance of power, but she needs Jon’s help to do it. Another god, Umbra, works together with the Chairman for his own reasons. This entire plot is what kept me thoroughly involved in what was going on. END SPOILERS

Content note: strongly implied rape, ethnic slurs

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