A mission to sabotage China’s growing nuclear capabilities horribly misfires in this debut machine-goes-rogue adventure.
An elite “best of the best” squad is formed to carry out a top-secret mission dubbed Project XS. Apparently, the members didn’t get the top-secret part in the memo, as they all greet one another with variations on “Hey, Project XS!” The team includes Matt Baker and his close New York SWAT team partner, Kayla Jenkins; siblings Alejandro and Antonio Javier, both Navy SEALs; “handsome douchebag” Jack Kelly “from Boston SWAT”; and loner Sean Price. Sgt. Bakerman is their leader. “There are two phases,” he barks. “First phase, I hate you; second phase, I get rid of the things I hate.” The objective of this “advanced” mission is “to prevent the development of new nuclear bombs in Far Eastern countries.” Project XS “is the government’s most secret weapon and is, of course, very expensive.” It is technology that is “unique and possibly game-changing for our army.” Not really; the exoskeletons that are powered by humans wearing them as militarized suits will be familiar to fans of the films Aliens, Avatar, and Pacific Rim. But here the story takes a Westworld (the 1973 movie, not the HBO series) twist: One of the exoskeletons becomes sentient and escapes. The squad’s new assignment is to bring it back intact as per the orders of a delusional general who wants to “make all the machines…into an army.” This ambitious, earnest book by Latvian-born author Calans offers some thrills, with Bakerman turning out to be the tale’s best—and certainly its loudest—character. But the novel reads as if it was fed into an English translator, resulting in stilted sentences (“This mission we’ve both been assigned to, could lead to great danger. Neither of us knows what’s going to unfold when we get to that island”) and off-kilter phrases such as “taxi car” and “having a dish,” in regard to eating dinner. Fatal to these types of stories is the author’s lack of credible tech-speak and gadget-savvy (the exoskeletons have “factory settings”).
Should be fun for fans of Ed Wood’s schlocky but endearingly sincere film opuses like Plan 9 From Outer Space.