Friday, March 2, 2012

Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole

I was only dimly aware of what looks like being one of 2012's 'buzz' debuts; Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole until I saw a review by Jim Hines on his Livejournal. I had seen the cover various places, but it looked rather like some sort of military SF tie-in book, and that didn't really interest me. That's not a knock on tie-in fiction, it just isn't my thing. I know having said that, somewhere along the line I'll develop an interest in a tie-in fiction concept and make a liar out of myself.

Jim Hines' review made it sound like something I may enjoy and I started seeing a number of other positive reviews. It's a very strong debut. Control Point, the first of what looks like being the Shadow Ops series, is an interesting blend of military SF and urban fantasy.

The book is set in a near future earth where people have started to manifest magical talents. It's generally referred to as 'becoming latent'. Waking up with the ability to manipulate fire, magically heal people with a touch or open gates into other realities can be a rather disconcerting thing to happen, as a result a great many of these newly latent people panic and run. Once they run they're known as 'selfers' and are hunted down. The only other option is to turn yourself in and be trained in the use of your powers, more than likely for some military purpose. Of course that's if you are lucky. You could be really unlucky and get a 'prohibited' power, these people are referred as 'probes', and are regarded as almost too dangerous to be allowed to live.

Oscar Britton is a US army officer attached to the Supernatural Operations Corp (SOC) and sees firsthand how selfers are treated. When he himself manifests as a probe he understandably takes flight, and is pursued by the organisation he had hoped to give his life to.

The real story starts after Britton is taken into custody, forced to use his power of 'gating' for the military and taken to a base established in the 'Source', an magical world that magically talented humans are trying to take over. There are some parallels made here between the US military's presence in Iraq and Afghanistan made here. Myke Cole himself has done 3 tours of Iraq.

A lot of the book is taken up with Oscar's training, examining his thoughts about his situation and the moral battle he has about what he's been made to do. Readers also get introduced to the heroes and villains of the piece. I'd be willing to bet that more than a few of these peripheral characters will become regulars in the series as it unfolds.

Control Point is fast paced, although some of the training that Britton undergoes becomes a little repetitive, especially his regular beat downs at the hands of his sadistic warrant officer Fitzy. There are plenty of bangs and crashes, it's rather like a big budget, effects driven action movie in book form. It's a hard book not to like, it's just so much fun and even though characters like the love interest Therese and the bad guy of Fitzy are fairly two dimensional you can't help but be sucked in and love one, while hating the other and desperately hoping that if he isn't outright killed he does at least get his backside royally kicked.

Characterisation and dialogue are probably two areas that Cole needs to work on. Some of the characterisation is excellent, especially Oscar Britton, although he does have a tendency to become a bit whiny, and the book was wrapped up a little too quickly, with too much happening and some of Britton's actions in that section were curiously at odds with his behaviour throughout most of Control Point. Other characters weren't quite so lucky, and I've already mentioned Therese and Fitzy, as a result of this some of the dialogue doesn't quite flow the way it should.

There's been a lot of thought and research go into Control Point and Cole has obviously drawn heavily on his military background to provide the setting and the jargon for the book. Something that is particularly effective, and shows the care Myke Cole has taken into making his setting as believable as possible, are the quotes at the start of each chapter, which purport to come from newscasts, books or interviews from people on the ground in this brave new magical world.

Myke Cole seems to be a bit of a comic book fan if his comment in his acknowledgement about author Peter V. Brett being his Professor X are anything to go by. There's a rather comic book feel about the whole set up in Control Point, the magical manifestation recalls the discovery of the genetic X or mutant factor in Marvel's X-Men comic series, and the call signs that some of the magical soldiers are given are very super heroesque. Britton is Keystone, there's an aeromancer known as Swift and an aquamancer who goes by the name of Wavesign. It actually makes a lot of sense that people with abilities like this would end up being used by the military and it makes me wonder why I never thought of this when I used to read comics like the X-Men.

Control Point is a very encouraging debut and I look forward to seeing Myke Cole produce more Shadow Ops books in the near future.

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