Rick Shelley,
Spec Ops Squad: Deep Strike
(Ace, 2002)

Deep Strike follows Holding the Line in Rick Shelley's Spec Ops Squad series. The book can stand alone, but I felt I may have enjoyed it more if I had been familiar with the first book. The narrator is Sgt. Bart "Dragon" Drak, a human soldier in the Special Operations Squad known as SOS. He begins by recounting his own nightmare of the first time he was on the divotech world of Dintsen, when it was invaded by the tonatin, the dominant species of the Ilion Federation. Having already captured several other divotech worlds, they seem set on eradicating the only sentient reptilian species in the Alliance of Light -- a coalition of human and extraterrestrials. Bart achieved success on his second drop to Dintsen, re-establishing the planet's independence with Alliance combined forces; but his nightmares continue to trouble him.

Back on Earth, readying himself for the next campaign, Bart has the unenviable task of uniting a diverse and internally hostile group of aliens. Within his squad are divotech, human, porrachi, biraunta, abarand and ghuroh; difficult enough to get them to eat in the same mess, never mind work cohesively! It is a puzzle that Shelley takes so long to reveal what any of these creatures are like, physically and culturally. We find out that the divotech are generally despised, while the biraunta are terrified of the porracci, who share a culture of machismo and physical domination with the ghuruh, and the tonatin appear to be like smart Neanderthals. If more detailed and generous descriptions had been given earlier in the tale, the first part would have been more interesting, as I could then have more clearly envisioned their character traits and differences.

The gist of the story is somewhat reminiscent of early Star Trek, the Federation against a rogue species: Good versus Evil.

There is a brief love interest presenting a minor dilemma for Bart, but that aspect quickly disappears as the Alliance's military machine attempts to seize the initiative by invading Olviat, a long-established tonatin colony. Once Drak and his crew have landed, Shelley's exciting yet detailed descriptions of the fighting more than held my interest. These skirmishes continue without respite until the end of Deep Strike, resulting in the reader feeling something of an empathy with the exhaustion of Drak and his species-spanning squad as they battle on. The book contains no great surprises regarding plot and could have given more information regarding some of the futuristic technology, like the med-tank. Earlier and fuller descriptions of the variety of extraterrestrials would have improved the imagery of the story, but it is nonetheless a good, fast read for those who are into military science fiction.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 8 February 2003

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