Nazis on Mars. Alien space bugs. Secret government conspiracies. Time travel. This book has it all, and, amazingly, makes it all make sense.
When I first saw the publicity material referencing the setting, particularly the "Nazis in Space" part, I thought for sure this had to be some kind of parody, or at least written with tongue planted firmly in cheek. (Which I would be super down for, by the way) I was eager to dig into it after Dancing Lemur Press offered me an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Big Red plays it straight, and pulls it off. It's earnest, and honest, and believable, thanks to the grounding of a realistic, decent protagonist as our guide and narrator.
The packaging says "military sci-fi" but this is a thriller through and through. The pace is fast and the twists and turns are dizzying. Every time I thought I had the story figured out Larkin threw another curveball, and I could barely keep up. It felt like the Twilight Zone or Black Mirror at times with the way it completely subverts expectations. Honestly sometimes it almost feels like there's too many twists happening, but the author pulls them all together, catches all the loose threads and ties everything up nicely in the end. If you're cynical like me and you're asking yourself after three or four chapters "how the hell is he going to pull this together?" then trust me: Damien Larkin pulls it off, and pulls it off with style.
It's hard to get into the plot too much without revealing spoilers (and like I said, the crazy revelations are the best part), but the back cover blurb gives you a pretty good set up. A soldier wakes up on Earth after a year-long mission to Mars goes disastrously wrong. He has only fractured memories of what happened and his commanding officers are desperate for answers he doesn't have. The story alternates back and forth between the main character's time on Mars and what's happening on Earth, as the reader experiences each memory first-hand as the narrator remembers them himself. It's a neat trick and is a wonderful way of slowly unraveling all of the interconnected story threads, as bits of info revealed in each storyline reveals or explains what's happening in the other.
The military aspects of the novel feels real and grounded, despite taking place on Mars, which is obviously due to Larkin's own experiences in the military. His first-hand knowledge really makes the action seem believable, and he provides just enough detail to add to the story without going overboard with the jargon. Likewise with his sci-fi tech - functional and interesting without going into too much minutiae. All of these touches add to the plot, giving the setting an immersive, lived-in feel without bogging it down too much.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed Big Red and highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in Sci-Fi. A very impressive debut from Damien Larkin and I look forward to future works from the author.
By Damien Larkin
Release date - May 14, 2019
Print ISBN 9781939844606
EBook ISBN 9781939844613
Science Fiction - Military/Alien Contact/Alternative History
We have always been here…
Suffering the side effects of Compression travel, soldier Darren Loughlin wakes up screaming from a gunshot wound that isn’t there. Despite a fractured memory, he is forced to recount his year-long tour of duty on Mars to uncover the mysterious fate of Earth’s off-world colonies and the whereabouts of his shattered battalion.
With time running out, Darren recalls his tour of duty with the Mars Occupation Force in New Berlin colony, their brutal MARSCORP masters, and the vicious war against the hostile alien natives.
But as he exposes the truth, Darren suspects he is at the centre of a plot spanning forty years. He has one last mission to carry out. And his alien enemy may be more human than he is…
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