The Empire’s Corps
By Christopher Nuttall
Published by Podium Publishing
Read by Jeffrey Kafer
If you like military fiction, you’ll like this book, I am sure. The fact that it is set in the future when Mankind’s empire fills the Galaxy does not really change that, at its heart, this is a story about Marines. The science fiction setting is just a veneer. A setting in which these Terran Marines can do what Marines do best.
Okay there are a few differences such as the fact that Captain Stalker’s unit (Stalker’s Stalkers) has both men and women serving side-by-side with their male counterparts in battle situations. I like the fact that while that is presented as a situation of complete equality between the men and women, no one comments on it, not even to admit that once on a time it was not done that way. That, I think is what gender equality is supposed to look like. In Nuttall’s Terran Marines, you either are or are not a Marine. Gender has no bearing on the matter. There is no debate on whether a woman can stand up to the physical standard of being a Marine. If she is a Marine, she obviously can and does.
However, I feel that Mister Nuttall fell into a few cliché traps along the way. I don’t care if every sergeant in the world has the line “Don’t call me ‘Sir,’ I work for a living!” permanently burned into his (or her) brain. (Seriously, by now who has never heard that in a movie or TV show at least twice?) It would have been nice not to have it trotted out in the obligatory boot camp scenes… along with recruits calling him “Sir,” which I guess does happen in spite of it being shown in every TV Show and movie about military training, but I guess my real complaint was in using the cliché Marine training scenes in the first place. Was he trying to stretch the story out to novel length? I’m fairly sure it would have made it anyway and there really was nothing I had not seen in everything from the original Sergeant Bilko to Stripes and a dozen times, at least, since then too.
Not that following the recruits was not completely wasted. As this is the first book in a series about space marines, it is important to show what training is like and following the recruit named Michael was a good way to delve into the thought processes of recruits as they become Marines, it’s just that I think some of the same old lines and situations might have been avoided or at least glossed over for the sake of the story if not realism.
The rest of the story: After a disastrous mission, Stalker’s unit is transferred to Avalon, a Camelot-theme-named world as far from Earth as they can get. It is not an easy posting as the local government is corrupt, whose leaders are intent on keeping the population in permanent debt to them. Meanwhile there are revolutionaries seeking to topple that government, which as corrupt as it is, is still the legitimate government. And then there are the bandits, preying like vampire vultures on everyone they can, and are frequently in the pay of the government. Somehow Stalker and his men and women must find a way to save Avalon from itself while the Empire itself seems on the verge of collapse.
Well, obviously the marines have to win, because if they don’t it is going to be a very short series. How they get there is an interesting enough story once it gets past the obligatory clichés in the second half of the book. My only other complaint were on the bits where point of view moved away from the marines, the Sadomasochistic/B&D attitudes from the bandits were particularly unpleasant and felt like they were thrown in gratuitously. We know the bandits are bad guys. We don’t need to live in their foul fantasies. Fortunately such interludes were few and far between, but really added nothing to the story.
However, like I said above, if you are a fan of military fiction, this should be right up your alley even if you do not normally read science fiction.
Jeffrey Kafer reads the book well. No funny voices, no over-acting, just a good solid reading style. To tell the truth, unless I reminded myself to listen to him, I did not really notice his reading, which is not a bad thing. It meant he was careful not to upstage the story itself and gave the story exactly what it needed to be told.
If I had to describe the style of reading… and I guess I do… I would say that Mister Kafer reads this book as though it were a military report. That might sound could and emotionless – it is not – but it does match the characters well. So whether this is his usual reading style, I cannot say, but it works fine for this story.
So, it’s a pretty good story with a pretty good reader. Enjoy!