A mindless clone space pilot, destined as a fighter for an interstellar war, unexpectedly discovers his individuality and—with some surprising allies—tries to reverse the cycle of destruction.
In Mulkern’s debut sci-fi novel, a nameless man whose uniform bears the number 3302JJ26H9S375 suddenly awakens in a giant, labyrinthine factory with no memory of how he got there. Surrounded by identical-looking, unresponsive warriors, the amnesiac “33” (later he settles on the name Rob) comes to the unsettling conclusion that he belongs to a vast, preprogrammed clone military, split between pilots (like him) and soldiers, grown and conditioned in vats and deployed endlessly. Using trial and error in navigating around the complex (and avoiding cleanup robots, the only other signs of “life”), Rob ultimately learns his fellow clones are automatically dispersing through the galaxy, continually fighting wars of conquest and extermination against helpless alien races on multitudinous worlds. This pointless, rapacious operation has been going on, by itself, for a long time. A flaw in Rob’s cloning grants him self-awareness and an ethical conscience to rebel and do something about it. But can he? Well, yes—and readers might quibble that, after a cool opening (with a parallel narrative about military-industrial corporate skulduggery among elites of an Earth-like world that ends abruptly and jarringly), the hero’s cosmos-traversing path to halt the gears of cruel total war is rather simple considering the monumental stakes. Still, it’s a nimble, fast-moving narrative even as it echoes other star wars sagas, such as Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker series and, well, Star Wars, with its storm troopers and resistance fighters (Rob acquires an alien ally resembling an inventive mix of Wookiee, Klingon, and one of author Larry Niven’s feline Kzin). Even the daughter of a “lord” enters, for an endearing, old-fashioned, chaste romance. While modern concepts such as software viruses and nanotechnology get thrown into the mix, this tale has the companionable feel of a shipshape yarn from sci-fi’s golden age.
One not-so-tin soldier rides away from an apocalypse in a sci-fi adventure wrapped in a neat, compact package.