Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review: The Vang: The Battlemaster

Book Review: 'The Vang: The Battlemaster' by Christopher Rowley

5 / 5 Stars

‘The Vang: The Battlemaster’ (313 pp) was published by Del Rey in October, 1990, with cover artwork by Steve Hickman.

This is the third and final volume in the ‘Vang’ trilogy, with ‘Starhammer’ (1986) and ‘The Vang: The Military Form’ (1988) the preceding volumes.

The events in ‘Battlemaster’ take place two thousand years after those related in ‘The Vang: The Military Form’.

On the planet Wexel, the aristocracy lead lives of idleness and comfort in the great cities, while the lumpen proletariat make do with conditions akin to that of slaves. The hinterlands are wracked by perpetual wars of liberation: brutal, nasty affairs in which both rebels and government mercenaries commit atrocities with casual aplomb.

Luisa Chang, colonel in the ITAA Federation, is assigned to the operations center on Wexel, where she hopes to uproot entrenched corruption and malfeasance, make a name for herself, and leave with a deserved promotion. However, Chang soon discovers that the planet’s corrupt ITAA officers, who turn a blind eye to smuggling, and who enjoy profitable relations with Wexel’s corporate class, are none too pleased about a gung-ho officer upsetting their apple cart.

In the remote central highlands of Wexel, Count Karvur, whose personal fortune has been badly depleted by a business deal gone wrong, is stewing in a potent mix of frustration and depression. He has been running through one hapless get-rich-quick scheme after another, without success, and the fleshpots and gambling dens and fern bars of the coastal cities seem permanently denied him. Karvur makes do with raping the malnourished peasant girls who labor on his farm, and having their fathers tortured if they complain about the molestations. But it’s small enjoyment to one who used to cut a grand path through the apex of Wexel society.

As the novel opens, luck suddenly decides to visit Count Karvur. For a drilling operation on the grounds of his property has found something unusual, something buried in a rock strata nearly 80 million years old: an immense labyrinth of alien design, etched through the rock, coiling and twisting its way to an inner chamber. And within that inner chamber is a stasis pod……with a pink wad of protoplasm slowly pulsating within its depths.

The discovery of the alien artifact brings dollar signs to the greedy eyes of Count Karvur. Disclosing his find to only one other person – Caroline Reese, a biologist at Cowdray University – Karvur moves the alien organism to an incubator inside a cattle shed on his farm. Once Caroline Reese is sworn to secrecy, she is given her assignment: analyze the organism, and discover if it is native to Wexel. If it turns out the protoplasm is not of native origin, then Count Karvur has made the discovery of the century.

But the alien blob has plans of its own…..and within the incubator inside the dank cattle shed at Count Karvur’s farm, pink tentacles and flower-like growths are taking shape……….

‘Battlemaster’ has much the same plot as ‘The Military Form’, namely, the Vang get loose on a Terran colony planet, and before anyone really understands what’s happening, the bodies start to pile up- lots of bodies. 

But the Battlemaster is the ultimate strategist, and to it, the subjugation of single planet is by no means the ultimate goal, so the plot takes a different tack from that featured in ‘The Military Form’.

Like the previous volumes in the trilogy, ‘Battlemaster’ is straightforward, cleanly written adventure sf, with a healthy dose of horror added into the mix (Rowley isn’t shy about describing the processes by which the Vang parasites convert unwilling humans into their hosts). At times, the corruption and cowardice of the human actors is as great a hindrance to combating the Vang, as the creatures themselves.

All of the ‘Vang’ novels have been out of print for a while, but used copies can be had for reasonable prices, so if you are a fan of fast-moving, well-told sf adventure, then getting a copy of the three books is well worth the money.

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