A Hymn Before Battle

28. A Hymn Before Battle (Legacy of the Aldenata) by John Ringo. 396 p. Published October 2000.

This is the first book in the Posleen Wars series and focuses on three story lines.

Michael O’Neal is torn from his family and called back to military duty for a specialty he didn’t expect – his love of science fiction. Because humanity has made first contact with alien life forms. The Galactic Federation, composed of a number of species inhabiting planets and systems surrounding Earth, have reached out to mankind to share their science and technology. But the reason for their contact is not as pleasant – The Federation, composed primarily of non-violent species, is waging a losing war with an alien race known as the Posleen, and Earth is their next invasion point.

With the first wave landing in five years, the combined military forces of Earth goes into overdrive developing weapons and training raw recruits. In America, O’Niell is in charge of developing armored suits for mobile infantry. But, as always, the military is rife with politics, and he finds the distribution of the suits and training provided to be far below any standards. While Fleet, composed of the space-based forces, is supposed to be a new division, Army oversight of the Fleet Infantry is highly prejudicial.

Shipped off world with the first set of troops to use the suit, O’Neal finds himself ostracized by the command structure, only able to provide minimal support in training. As they land and battle engages, the inability of the infantry commanders to adapt and a lack of training with the suits’ capabilities becomes apparent, and a major disaster leaves O’Neal in charge of the remaining company. Now he must rescue the allied forces that are quickly being overrun by Posleen forces, and chances are none of them are going to make it back home.

Gunnery Sergeant Pappas is selected as one of the few to undergo rejuvenation. Using alien tech, the veteran marine is made young again and put in charge of training raw recruits in an obscenely short period of time. Confronted with insubordination and a record level of desertion, the entire Army is pushed to breaking. As Pappas is reassigned to take charge of his new brigade, they arrive to find their new base in turmoil. A lack of command structure and rioting among the troops has left the base in shambles. Pappas, now the highest ranking officer on base, and his men must find a way to re-establish control.

Our third plot follows Mueller, who is put in charge of a scouting party. Their job is to land on one of the Posleen-occupied worlds and determine whether the intelligence provided by The Federation is accurate. But sudden contact with Posleen forces leaves Muller and his men out of contact with their ship and fleeing across the swamp-world.

Through all three storylines and the occasional involvement of other characters, it becomes apparent to the reader that all is not as it seems. Mankind knows the Posleen are an enemy, but they’re going to have to watch their allies or face unthinkable consequence.

I haven’t read any military-SF in a while. Returning to the genre has been fun. Ringo develops his story and characters in a pretty straight forward manner. A Hymn Before Battle reads pretty simply, more like a thriller than sci-fi, and yet its scenes are witty and action-packed. With a good head for strategy, Ringo develops a solid plot, offering the reader an enjoyable diversion. Admittedly, I found a few faults with how Ringo works his story. Among them are his aliens. the Posleen in particular are not easy for the reader to imagine, with centaur bodies, Raptor heads and eagle claws instead of hands and feet). But Ringo’s use of science/tech – a little cliche – is well described and implemented and his battles are exciting. In the end, that’s all you ask of military sci-fi.

A free online version of the book is available by the publisher.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Other Reviews of A Hymn Before Battle: Sunidesus Reads

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