Gavin Smith’s Veteran makes me think that sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too. It’s an ultra-violent tour de force through a not-near-but-middle-to-slighty-far-away future that, a few decades ago, would have read like a dystopian satire but is entirely played straight. It has a never-ending war with strange aliens, a human conspiracy that has some of the best worst guys I’ve seen for some time and it even manages to sneak in some neat discussion of civil responsibility, the values of democracy and the role and toxic influence of idea’s of masculinity that still pervades our culture.
Mind you, Veteran is not subtle. It goes from 100%-velocity action to full-stop philosophical discussion and then back to the violence. It’s odd pacing-wise, but I did like the talky parts among all the action. And not everyone will agree that it actually manages to have its cake and eat it too, as for some the ultra-violence elements will completely negate anything the book says about toxic ideas of manliness, and vice-versa (some will definitely not like such a discussion intermingled with all the neat action).
For me it worked wonderfully. It’s exactly the right mix of pulpy-adventure and heady thoughtfulness I appreciate in science fiction, even if it doesn’t exactly cover new ground. But sometimes looking at old ideas and talking points from a different perspective and voiced in a simple yet not-stupid way is pretty cool.
Also, lots of big guns, augmented humans up to the wazoo, a penultimate finale that evokes traces of Bester’s Stars My Destination finale where humanity at large gets to decide their own fate, though in this case by setting free the ultimate panopticon society. It’s a pretty wild ride.