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PHANTOM ULTRA by Kenton E.H. Ward


by Kenton E.H. Ward

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 2023

In Ward’s SF novel, a war veteran in the racially fraught far-future is coerced into a mission to exterminate monstrous creatures.

In the late 30th century, humanity has not outgrown racism; Earth’s domineering Imperial Authority fought and won a decade-long galactic civil war against the so-called “Freedom Federation,” avowed white male supremacists who sought the enslavement of all people of color and women. Of mixed-race parentage, Imperial Authority soldier Tommy Cade emerged from the conflict with a fearsome reputation. But his guilt and recurring violent flashbacks drive him to self-exile, even from his lover, Kat. He is blackmailed by Ward, a sinister Authority figure, into joining a team of “masons” in what has become a fallback occupation for many military vets: exterminating “golems,” infectious, parasitic, mineral-based life forms with an appetite for humans—something like brain-eating zombies crossed with small volcanos. On a planet in Federation-sympathetic territory, Tommy reunites with Kat and some three-dozen masons to try to kill the nastiest golem yet. But there is much that Ward is not telling—and Tommy struggles to contain a terrifying secret of his own. The author can deliver a gangbusters battle scene (“The miniaturized mag-rail inside my Triple-R engaged, a stream of razors erupting from the barrel. The rounds ripped through the demo, his body twisting unnaturally as the razors pierced his body armor, arms, and head”), and the action-packed material maintains an elemental hold on readers even when the gravitas lightens. The clashes, with the heroes outfitted in powered armor, recall melees from superhero comics and James Cameron’s Aliens. The potent idea of American-style racism persisting 1,000 years into the future to taint galactic culture tends to fade in and out of the action-oriented scenes. Still, it is clear that this backwater star system is meant to resemble the Jim Crow South or even the worst elements attributed to contemporary Red State USA culture. 

Rapid-fire human-on-space-monster action, brought down to earth by racial injustice.