I promised you a book review, and by golly you’re gonna get it! In my own, inimitable BBB style.
Starcraft II: Heaven’s Devils by William C. Dietz is at it’s heart a military sci-fi tale that follows a very familiar style.
There is a familiar theme that keeps getting repeated in military novels. Naive young man goes off to war, enters boot camp, is exposed to the order and structure of training, feels prepared and confident, and then goes out into the harsh reality of the real world, where blood stains your stuff, people die even when they’re you’re friends, and chaos seems to reign.
It’s a familiar theme because the coming of age tale is something to which we can all relate, and it helps draw us into the setting. Much like us, the new recruit doesn’t know what the future holds, and as things are explained to him along the way, we learn right along with him.
For those of us that have been there before ourselves in some way, we can also chuckle as we remember just how naive and stupid we really were back then.
This particular story is centered on Jim Raynor, a young man helping his family keep their farm alive on a dusty agrarian world, as the Guild Wars rage between the Confederation and the Kel-Morian guilds over who will control the future of Terran colonized space.
As the story progresses, we follow young Jim’s own coming of age tale as it unfolds, from his very beginning on the Confederation world of Shiloh, and all the way through until the end of his military career.
Along the way, we become acquainted with the ways of the Confederation military might, and bear witness to the birth of an elite force, the Heaven’s Devils.
The story is set in the Starcraft universe, and is faithful to the Starcraft lore that has come before. This is not a reboot, revamp or reconstruction for Starcraft II, it all fits nicely in the existing storyline. In fact, much like the recent book Arthas, the back of Starcraft II: Heaven’s Devils includes a detailed Starcraft timeline that lays out important events in sequence, and for each event lists the book(s) in which those events can be found.
Yes, Starcraft II: Heaven’s Devils is a tale set solidly in the Starcraft universe, and yes it is faithful to the existing lore, but first and foremost this is a military sci-fi novel in keeping with the finest works of William C. Dietz. Anyone that is familiar with his work on Legion of the Damned will feel right at home here without having read anything else, or having played SC1.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Legion of the Damned… Dietz infuses his military sci-fi with a stripped down quality; the story advances from event to event, and you’re expected to keep up and pay attention. He doesn’t spend much time describing the color of the grain in the fields of Shiloh, and he doesn’t bother you with details on what the major export crop of whatever town the characters happen to be in might be. His books also bear a cynical edge and black humor common to military sci-fi, a tone perfectly in keeping with the setting and subject matter of this book.
I enjoyed this book a great deal, but at the beginning, it was hard for me to get into. The “From boot camp to the front lines” theme has been done so many times, in so many ways, and let’s be honest… not all of them can be Full Metal Jacket. When you realise what the theme of this story will be, an experienced reader will start to worry… “Is this going to have some imagination, some new and interesting edge to it, or is this going to be some formulaic piece of derivative crap?”
Hey, I know that’s what I was worrying.
So yes, starting out, when I saw what direction the book was heading, I was worried. I dragged my feet a bit.
In the end, it goes off the rails in a very good way, and has a great “Oh crap” feel to it. It’s not a story you’re going anticipate, it does a good job of sucker punching your expectations.
Still, in the early stages, I didn’t know that it was going to go off the rails.
What kept me going was the promise that this was Jim Raynor’s story.
I played Starcraft I, so I know who the hell Jim Raynor is. At the time Starcraft I begins, it’s been ten years since the end of the Guild Wars. We know that the Confederacy won the war and now rules unchallenged over Terran space. It’s all one big happy Confederation family. we als know that if you want any sense of freedom in the Confederacy, you go out to the rim of colonized space looking for some crap out of the way planet and find a hole to hide in.
Four days before the Starcraft I story begins, an alien fleet popped out of nowhere and laid waste to a colonized Terran Confederacy world. Panic among exposed colonial worlds ensues, and we enter from stage left as a Confederation assigned Magistrate abrubtly placed in command of the colony of Mar Sara.
As the Colonial Magistrate, we are tasked with protecting the colony from a feared alien invasion and chilling them out so they don’t panic at the idea of being Zerg chow. On our very first Starcraft I mission (real mission, not the training mission) we encounter a very dusty, tired, and cynical James Raynor, the “local Marshall” of Mar Sara, and we enlist his aid in relocating refugees immediately in the wake of General Edmund Duke’s surprise announcement of a 48 hour lockdown and colonial quarantine.
From there, the Starcraft I story takes off running… and from there we got to know Jim Raynor very well. Jim, and Kerrigan.
But what was Marshall James Raynor’s story back before he ended up on Mar Sara?
Starcraft II: Heaven’s Devils did what I really wanted. It does tell Jim’s story, and along the way also tells the story of the elite unit he was a part of, and gives us one hell of an eyes wide open view at the reality of the Confederation Terran Marines.
Unfortunately, the book ends near the conclusion of the Guild Wars, and leaves us with a ten year gap to wonder what happened until we see him again in SC1.
Still, have you seen the trailor for the Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty game out this Tuesday?
God, I love that trailer.
I think it’s safe to say that if you want to know more about the man that comes to lead a Mercenary force in the new Starcraft II game, if that trailer makes you interested to know more about what kind of actual military background he had in the Confederacy, and why he wasn’t STILL a loyal little happy Confederate puppet, then Starcraft II: Heaven’s Devils will answer those questions admirably.
Oh, and yeah… I’ll be buying the game on Tuesday. What can I say? They had me at “Kerrigan”.
Bottom line – It was a good book. I had a good time. I’d like to see Dietz fill out those missing ten years.