Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Review: The Karma Corps

Book Review: 'The Karma Corps' by Neil Barrett, Jr.

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Karma Corps’ (239 pp) is DAW Book No. 604, and was published in November, 1984. The striking cover illustration was done by Les Edwards.

‘Karma’ was the 10th sf novel published by Neil Barrett, Jr. (1929 – 2014). It’s set on a nameless planet where, two centuries ago, a colony ship crash-landed. Despite reverting to a medieval level of technology, the survivors have created a small civilization, with its own stone-walled Citadel.

Lars Haggart is the Captain of the eponymous Corps; like the 221 soldiers under his command, Lars has no real knowledge of his past, for he is the reincarnation of a deceased member of the colony. What makes Lars and his soldiers special is their ability to instantaneously teleport across small distances, a skill shared by the some of the Demons, a race of werebeasts who also inhabit the planet.

As the novel opens, the Churchers, the theocracy which governs society, are in desperate straits in their perpetual struggle to hold back the demon hordes, who – for reasons unknown- are seeking to expunge the Terrans from the planet.

Using elaborate fortifications and field tactics to counter the teleportation abilities of the the demon armies has bought the Church some time, but that time is running out. The Church hierarchy is looking to Lars and his Corps to use their unique powers to bring about a decisive victory against the enemy.

But as Lars is to discover, the demons seem to have an uncanny ability to know in advance where he and his soldiers are going to teleport. And far from being the ultimate weapon, the Corps may in fact be a liability. Lars discovers that he will have to act on his own to discover the truth about the reincarnation process, and the strange territories that are home to the disembodied souls from which the Corps is drawn. But asking those types of questions can trigger the wrath of the Churchers….and a further fragmentation of a society teetering on the brink of extinction………

‘Corps’ certainly has an interesting, offbeat premise, but I found the book to be a disappointment. Barrett’s narrative is plainly designed to keep the reader turning the pages in order to learn the Ultimate Revelation behind the existence of the demons, the Corps, and the causes of the war between the two races; this narrative tactic of guiding the reader to the ‘solution’ behind the ‘planetary mystery’ is one he employed in his 1974 sf novel Stress Pattern.

Unfortunately, too much of the narrative in ‘Corps’ revolves around the political and personal squabbles and rivalries between Lars (who is not particularly bright) and the Churchers. These conflicts are framed as confrontations between emerging humanism and self-awareness on the part of the Corps, versus the orthodoxy and blind obedience fomented by the Churchers. Practically every page is taken up with extended conversations documenting these conflicts, while the main plot thread – the threat to existence posed by the demons - makes sporadic appearances.

When the Final Revelation came in the latter chapters, I found it underwhelming and rather perfunctory, as if the author had run out of energy and was simply looking to wrap things up a conveniently as possible.

Summing up, I have to label ‘The Karma Corps’ a dud. Reader are urged to instead seek out Neil Barrett, Jr’s next novel after ‘Corps’, Through Darkest America (1987), which is much superior.

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