Thursday, March 15, 2012

Standing Alone by MJ Dougherty

book cover for Standing AloneMike Halsey is a former Mek (that machine on the cover) pilot. He survives an ambush in Thailand and eventually makes his way back to England where he joins Britain's struggle for independence from the European Federation.

Before I review the book, I need to provide a bit of background. Standing Alone is a novel intended to put a face on Armageddon: 2089, a role playing game (RPG) from Mongoose Publishing. Novels based on RPGs and video games are fairly common. Authors are hired to write novels to enhance the gaming experience. Such is the role of Mr. Dougherty here. What is unusual in this case is that this game has been defunct for several years. While the book was written when the game was still viable, it wasn't published until September of last year. Rumor has it that the setting is going to be re-released with a different rule set.

When the game was conceived, the European Union's star was on the rise. Its economic success suggested that political sovereignty would soon follow. The game was born out of the British reaction against that move. In the game (which the book is faithful to), the European Federation has risen to ascendancy and is now the most powerful nation in the world. The USA is still faithful to the "cowboy diplomacy" philosophy of the George W. Bush administration even after 80 years. China? No direct mention here (must be part of the Tiger Combine briefly talked about in the Introduction). As time tends to be merciless to the predictions of science fiction writers, history has taken a different course. The Great Recession has sent corporations and governments to the brink of bankruptcy (bailouts for everyone!). The EU is struggling to survive as an economic entity. For the foreseeable future, the likelihood of a political union in Europe is now small.

Putting that aside (as it isn't the author's fault), I can say that Mr. Dougherty has given us a good military sci-fi story.

Mr. Dougherty has written several non-fiction books that cover military history and current day armaments and is a martial arts instructor. Without question, this story has a solid technical footing. Sometimes a term will come along that will leave the layman scratching his head, but by no means is this just a weapons catalog with narrative verse. However, I'm not sure I needed to know what weapon everyone was carrying in non-combat scenes.

Dougherty gives his main characters depth. Mike Halsey is a skilled soldier and Mek pilot but he's not without issues. His mother walked out on him and his father. In turn, his father later died in a plane crash (a heroic ditch into the sea to spare civilians). It's clear he has abandonment issues and avoids getting too close to people. He distrusts authority but believes in the cause of a Free Britain.

Elizabeth Sinclaire is the de facto leader of the Free Britain government in hiding. Having survived a harrowing attack by a European raid on the then intact government, she's had to order people on suicide missions just to keep hope alive. Her conscience has taken a beating and she doubts that any of it will do any good in the long run. As her command decisions weigh on her soul, she takes it out on her liver.

There were a lot of secondary and minor characters. While some received sufficient coverage to become memorable, some others tended to blur together. Two of the better drawn characters were Palmer, Halsey's Mek pilot rival, and General Lavalle. Palmer's personality served as nice contrast to Halsey's generally dour disposition while General Lavalle spent his time scheming such that one can't wait for his comeuppance.

It should come as no surprise that action is heavy in Standing Alone. In the opening chapter, Halsey's Mek unit is ambushed in Thailand. Dougherty provides a heavily detailed account of the battle, which goes to underscore Halsey's skill as a Mek pilot. Similar levels of detail are provided in subsequent battles and chases in the book. But in all cases the action is there to support the plot, rather than being the plot.

Unfortunately there were many typos in the PDF copy of the book I received. It wasn't a case of American English vs. the Queen's English. I've read enough work by British authors to know the difference. No, it looks like the publisher, Mongoose Publishing, was remiss in its responsibility to edit, or at the very least proofread, Mr. Dougherty's work before publishing it. Either that or the editor needs to be sacked.

One recommendation I'd make would be to get rid of the Introduction. The information contained therein would've been better served if brought out during the story. Instead, all it does is delay and clutter the reader's mind. We don't need to know the background before we read this book. This is a story about Mike Halsey's role in the fight for British Independence. We can pick that other stuff up later.

In summary, Standing Alone is an action-packed story for military sci-fi aficionados. Dougherty provides expert level of detail with his combat scenes and gives us realistic characters we can root for. It's too bad that Mongoose neglected its responsibility for editorial support and thus left Mr. Dougherty standing alone.

UPDATE - May 2013: I'm pleased to report that Standing Alone has a new publisher: Antimony Sun. This small press understands the responsibilities of a publisher and has proofread and edited Mr. Dougherty's work. I no longer have any reservations about recommending this work.

Standing Alone is available for the Kindle and in other formats via Smashwords.

1 comment:

DED said...

The review of Standing Alone has been updated. The book has a new publisher.