Kincaid’s sequel to Insignia (2012) moves beyond derivative fun to real depth.
Ever-rebellious Tom Raines has advanced with his pals Vik and Wyatt to Middle Company at the Pentagonal Spire. They’ve reached the level where they need to cultivate corporate sponsors in order to join the elite virtual warriors who conduct the ongoing space-based war between the Russo-Chinese and Indo-American alliances for control of the moon. Tom may be preternaturally great at virtual-war skillz, but he is horrible at sucking up and almost immediately alienates every single multinational corporate head he needs to impress. Meanwhile, Tom continues to pursue his odd but intense secret relationship with crack Russo-Chinese combatant Medusa and begins to suspect that Yuri, their Russian friend at the Spire, whom Wyatt “unscrambled” in the first book, may not be as innocent as they had thought. Kincaid lays a lot down, twining her increasingly complex plot and characterizations with Tom’s growing awareness of the poisonous “military-industrial-media complex.” As Eisenhower feared, it has made war a way of life that enriches a very few and impoverishes the many—one corporate head has bought Yosemite as his own private playground, one of many unsubtle but all-too-plausible symbols Tom contemplates. Action fans, fear not: For all the deep thinking Tom and readers undertake, pace, adventure and fun are not compromised one whit.
A surprisingly and satisfyingly rich middle volume in a trilogy that exceeds popcorn expectations. (Science fiction. 13-16)