Fiction Reviews

Empires: Infiltration

(2014) Gavin Deas, Gollancz, hrdbk 12.99, 347pp, ISBN 978-0- 575-12928-3


This is the second of the two twinned 'Empires' books by Stephen Deas and Gavin Smith, collectively known as Gavin Deas. They both tell the same story from different angles. Not the first time it has been done, but it is a rarity, and a challenge.

You should read the other review first, for Empires: Extraction, because it is, technically, the first in the series. But, frankly, you could read the books in either order so maybe the same should hold true of the reviews. So I am going to repeat myself. Just like the books do.

Two races, the Weft and the Pleasure, arrive on Earth 2015-ish causing varying degrees of nuisance frequently resulting in nuclear weapons and anti-matter discharges. The Weft are here because they intercepted a SETI-type signal from Earth in the 1970s so they came to take a look, found some of their fellow Weft here already and causing mayhem and decide that we all need to be annihilated. The Pleasure, on the other hand, are here to harvest endorphins from us and turn the world into Bliss addicts. The Weft and the Pleasure are old adversaries so, inevitably, they renew hostilities here. The Pleasure turn ordinary mortals into super-solders and the resultant battle with the Weft forms the core of these stories.

Extraction followed an SAS veteran, Roche, whereas Infiltration concentrates on Corporal Noel Burman. The two overlap in each book but each has a slightly different role. The characters are pretty much interchangeable, though, acting as observers and minor irritants to the main alien players. I am not entirely sure why the writers created essentially the same character with two different names and (some) different but similar scenes. Burman is more compromised than Roche because he has a drug-dealing brother (who does not really act like a drug dealer) but their lines and actions are pretty much interchangeable.

And that is where this story falls down in comparison with the first. I got bored. I found myself reading the same story, written in the same way, with the same character (with a different name). There is a long James Bond style action sequence towards the end with a pitched battle in Docklands that went on a bit the first time around. Reading it twice over was no fun.

This is hard SF but 90% of the action takes place in present-day London and follows Noel Burman around reacting to the alien threat, fighting drug enhanced special forces agents, torturing drug dealers and so on. The other 10%, following the Pleasure's two agents around (Rex and Bad Trip great names), is way more interesting. These are hedonistic pleasure seekers with an array of exotic weapons at their disposal and little discernible moral compass, which makes them fascinating to watch.

Good bits: like the first book, this is fast-paced and well written (though the characterisation is somewhat lacking). Interesting premise, too, and the Pleasure are just fabulous. Bad bits? Though a great idea, and brave attempt, the two-story concept does not quite come off, possibly because (in my opinion) the writers did not differentiate the Burman and Roche characters (and storylines) sufficiently. Lastly, at times both books feel like they can't decide whether to be a caricature cop story or proper SF. Maybe of the humans interacted in a meaningful way with the aliens, aside from just shooting at them, this might have worked better.

In conclusion, high body count, lots of repetition but intriguing story and interesting aliens. Read it if you have not read the other book in the pair, but I am not sure you will gain much from reading both.

Mark Bilsborough

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