Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: The Vang: The Military Form

Book Review: 'The Vang: The Military Form' by Christopher Rowley


4 / 5 Stars


‘The Vang: The Military Form’ (Ballantine / Del Rey, 1988, 369 pp., cover art by Steve Hickman) is the second novel in the so-called ‘Vang’ trilogy; the initial volume is ‘Starhammer’ (1986), and the third volume ‘The Vang: Battlemaster’ (1990). 



[It's not obligatory to have read 'Starhammer' prior to reading 'The Military Form', as the latter stands more or less on its own as a trilogy entry.]

The ‘Vang’ trilogy received a new lease on life starting in 2001 with the phenomenal success of the ‘Halo’ series of video games, which feature a race of parasitic alien monsters, The Flood, who are modeled on the Vang:




‘The Military Form’ is set some 1,000 years after the events of the opening novel, ‘Starhammer’. Terra has succeeded in using the Starhammer to overthrow the tyranny of the blue-skinned, alien laowon, and humanity has expanded into much of the galaxy. Certain areas of space remain off-limits to exploration, however; not because of laowon edicts emplaced for economic reasons, but because they were scenes of combat millennia ago, between the race of un-named froglike aliens who created the Starhammer, and the virulent bioweapon – the Vang – that extinguished their civilization.

Much of the action in ‘The Military Form’ takes place on the planet Saskatch, which has a climate reminiscent of eastern Canada. The arboreal habitat of Sakatch is the galaxy’s sole source of the potent hallucinogen TA45, and the clandestine trade in this narcotic drives the planetary economy. With the exception of a small contingent of police officers and judges, every legal and corporate entity on Saskatch has been corrupted to a greater or lesser degree by the enormous sums of money to be gained by trading in TA45.

As the novel opens, an asteroid mining ship, the Seed of Hope, is on an expedition to the asteroid belt in the Saskatch system. Violating Federation proscriptions against venturing into the area, the Seed comes upon a strange, silvery object of alien design. Consumed by greed, the Seed’s crew endeavors to blast a hole in the object….but what they don’t know is that the alien artifact is a survival capsule. 






And lodged within its interior, having endured thousands of years in suspended animation, is the quiescent stage of the Vang’s Military Form.............

As with ‘Starhammer’, ‘The Military Form’ takes its time getting underway, and patience is required to navigate the book’s first 100 or so pages, as author Rowley sets up his cast of characters with some deliberation. 


Once the Military Form arrives on the unsuspecting planet and its major metropolis, Beliveau City, the action content gradually dominates the narrative and the plot gains momentum, with some genuinely entertaining battle sequences shaping the book’s last 50 pages. 



The Military Form are truly nasty monsters, ones that make the alien bioweapons in Ridley Scott’s 2012 ‘Alien’ prequel Prometheus look..... benevolent. I won’t disclose any spoilers, but I will say that author Rowley relates the gruesome actions of the Vang (which frequently involve inserting unpleasant things into their hapless victims’ lower GI tracts) with just the right note of deadpan humor. 


As an adventure / action novel, ‘The Military Form’ satisfies, and I recommend it to anyone interested in sf that features aliens that abhor the 'Kumbaya' spirit of interstellar relations……

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