(2015) Greg Bear, Gollancz, £7.99, trdpbk, 326pp, ISBN 978-0-575-13392-1
Michael Venn is under medical military surveillance having returned from combat on Mars. Humanity as met friendly aliens, the Gurus, who previously warned of other invading aliens, the Antags, and now humanity is fighting to protect the inner Solar system from these new newcomers. The thing is, can the first 'friendly' aliens be trusted? These friendlies Gurus certainly seem to have mankind's best interests at heart; they do not even like swearing! But Michael Venn has his doubts and he has been in contact with hostile alien technology and possibly biologicals: as far as his superiors are concerned he is possibly contaminated if not compromised. He wonders if his military superiors will tire of keeping him in isolation and simply terminate him?
And then a human aid to the friendly aliens helps Ven escape and takes him back to Mars. It appears as if the cadre of humans who act as an interface between the friendly Guru aliens and the rest of humanity are split: a sizeable minority fear that the friendlies might not have much concern for humanity's long-term interests. The team Ven are with hopes to gather evidence from a crashed meteor that harbours Antag technology. This in turn suggests that they need to go to Saturn's moon Titan. The problem is that the Antags have been fighting on Titan and while the Antags have had trouble controlling Mars, they have a firm foothold on Titan….
This is a reasonably self-contained novel but, while it can be read as such, it is clearly part of something more, and is in fact the mid-novel of a trilogy.
Now, I hugely enjoyed the first novel in the trilogy, War Dogs. Its upfront story conveyed much testosterone tension in the hostile environment of Mars without any actual enemy engagement until towards the novel's end: quite a feat of writing achievement. And its background story as to the nature of the unseen Gurus was intriguing with only teasing snippets being given away.
And as I mentioned in the War Dogs review, there are clear resonances developing in this trilogy with some of Greg Bear's previous novels. And with Killing Titan the author gives a tip of the hat acknowledgement to Nigel Kneale, I suspect because there is just a hint of a Quatermass and the Pit trope treatment.
All well and good, but how does this novel stack up?
Well, it is a perfectly fine military SF novel, make no mistake. Indeed, it is decidedly a cut above the rank and file of SF grunt stories. Having said that, Killing Titan does not really deliver on the promise War Dogs held out. I put this simply down to the usual mid-trilogy problem that commonly affects some writing: having provided a cracking first novel, the mid-novel of the trilogy has to both maintain the momentum and build on the first novel's achievements, while leaving plenty of room for a spectacularly stunning concluding story. Killing Titan certainly maintains the momentum, but there is too much more-of-the-same from War Dogs and not enough plot development for my money. We do learn something of the Antags possible ancestry but nothing really of the Gurus currently (supposedly benignly) controlling Earth. That, and the part Ven will play in tackling the Gurus (for surely that is what will come) will have to wait for the final novel. And while I cannot rate this second novel as highly as the first, I still am keen to see how it will all end in the final story. And also why is it that the Guru's hate swearing, and what is it with this electron worship??? All will no doubt be revealed.
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