Saturday, October 10, 2015

Warpworld II Wasteland Renegades

Warpworld II Wasteland Renegades
by Kristene Perron and Josh Simpson

For those of you who don't remember the last review, I know and am friends with Josh Simpson. In fact he gave me a copy of this work to review. We also met every Sunday over Skype to roll dice and play games that housewives in the 80s declared works of Satan. So if Josh reads this review? Remember the Organics always win Josh. That's my full disclosure for this review!

Wasteland Renegades is the second book in the series, which picks up right after the first one with not even a breath between them. Additionally the books are heavily interconnected, events from the first book shape almost everything in the second and relationship continue apace in this one. What am I saying here? Read the first book first! Otherwise you will be lost and confused. You have been warned. That said the books tell two complete different stories in and of themselves. This is not a single story chopped into bits, but a story with a beginning, middle and end. So in general I am okay with this. After all, if you try to watch Empire Strikes Back without seeing A New Hope, you are going to have a lot of questions about what the hell is going on. I've never heard anyone suggest that this makes Empire Strikes Back a lesser movie somehow. That said the longer you make a series the greater a need for discrete jumping in points where you can pick a book and not be completely lost in the sauce.

One of the things that separates Renegades from the first book is that it takes place entirely on Seg's homeworld. The homeworld of the People, who threatened by a monstrous wall of death (that they have oh so inventively named the Storm) that cruises their world devouring entire cities the way I scarf down ranch chips. To avoid that fate the People (this group is so bad at naming things) have retreated into great cramped and overcrowded cities barely shielded through bullshit magic and supported by mass slavery. Their magic (the characters will insist it's science but frankly it's magic and I'm going to refer to it as such) shields need what they call Vita, which as far has I can gather from the books is some form of concentrated emotion/faith. They get it and the slave labor they need to run their economy by attacking unsuspecting worlds and stealing it. Renegade introduces us in full to a culture of people who survive by preying on the unsuspecting and unwary. For almost 300 pages you will have your face rubbed in just what kind of culture this produces.

I was expecting something militaristic, regimented with every resource heavily and carefully rationed to prevent waste. With everything devoted to the goal of driving back the Storm from every inch of the World that the People can liberate. I was expecting a grim, stoic culture where sacrifices are expected from every member and every privilege is bought dearly because a luxury is wasting something that could have gone to raking away more space and time for survival. I figured the Houses were regional leaders in charge of disturbing resources. As you might have guessed I didn't get what I expected. The People lived dominated by noble houses where the upper ranks wallow in luxury and the lower classes live crammed lives marked by privation and heavy labor. Basically the lower classes of the People barely have it better then the masses of slaves whose labor keeps the system running but they get through the day by telling themselves that they're members of a superior race and at least they're not slaves (I've heard this before...).

Through out the first half of the book we are mercilessly dragged through the People's society through the eyes of Seg and Ama. Seg grew up in this society and he thought he hated it before. Now that he's had experience with another culture and with other people, he knows he hates this damn place. Remember in the last review how I said that I had Seg's upbringing I would be a raging asshole on my good days? I was wrong, Seg isn't a good guy, he isn't practically Gandhi. To be as together and as a good a guy as he is... He's the freaking Buddha returned! Because from what this book showed me of Seg's family and society... I would have ended up hunting the People in the streets eating their damn faces!

As a group they are that fucking awful! Seg wants to change his culture and save his people and for the live of I can't see what he thinks is worth saving in this psychopathic mess of a culture. Most cultures could do better then Seg for a hero, but for the People? Seg is miles better then what they deserve, but he is the hero they need, like it or not. He's a genius and well written as one, but his social skills keep flopping down to the level of a rather unwashed badger. I keep finding myself moved towards a deep well of pity for his mentor Jarin, who earns every bit of face time he gets in this book (I was really glad to see more of him!), is kept very busy cleaning up after Seg and trying to keep him from getting lynched. It's because of Jarin that Seg finds himself with more allies, including what passes for a reporter in the People's society. Frankly when it comes to PR, Seg is going to need all the help he can get. But let me get into the People's society here.
Imagine Rome, only all the grandeur, grace, beauty, ambition and humanity have been ruthlessly cut out and burnt away, leaving only a relentlessly hungry maw of a society. A stagnant parasite that makes no art, creates no great works, formulates no new science, strives towards no great goal but only seeks to cling to it's gray ugly half live by devouring whatever it can steal from the unsuspecting. They can't even name things decently! Their planet? They call it “The World”, themselves “The People” and so on and so forth. They are so drained of any spark that summoning up the ability to give something a decent name is to much for them! Their society is Capitalism and Imperialism stripped of any virtue and reduced to just constant exploitation and pillaging. I did at first wonder if the People were suppose to be compared to our society but frankly their society is to alien even with it's superficial similarities, (frankly you would have be someone on the level of Noam Chomsky to stretch it that far I think). It's a society where 3 men torturing a slave to death on the street gets less no reaction, a not even a “hey man take it inside.” You would get more reaction from 21st century Americans for torturing a squirrel on the sidewalk then the people have to give for slowly and painfully murdering a human being! With the exception of maybe slightly more then a dozen of the People, I found myself wishing for their slow and complete extinction. I mean at least Mordor was fucking honest about being a pit of despair and oppression.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am trained as an Anthropologist. We are taught that every culture has it's saving graces and while there are higher moral standards that we cannot excuse breaking (I'll admit this one varies and is disputed but I'll have nothing to do with the deep end of moral relativism), we need to understand a culture not judge it. I'm also a Marine, I've been out in other cultures and had some pretty intense interactions with them. So understand where I'm coming from here. The People's culture deserves to go extinct. It deserves to die. I don't say this lightly.

I will say that Ama's arc in this story definitely pushed me to that conclusion. Ama frankly gets herself into boat loads of avoidable trouble through the fact that she does not listen! This is frankly a theme with her, she never listens! It's good that we have a character flaw that is shown not told, but to be honest I found myself wanting to reach into the book and shake some damn sense into her. That said Mr. Simpson and Ms. Perron punish her dearly in this book for her headstrong and reckless nature. The price she pays on many levels is tragic for both her and Seg. I can't go any further without spoilers, I'll just say that Mr. Simpson and Ms. Perron do not pull their punches and do not flinch from following things to their logical conclusion. I'll also say the bastard who inflicted that tragedy got off light, but Seg was pressed for time here. My main compliant is Ama isn't given much to do in this book beyond suffer and try to repair herself. It makes perfect sense but I'm hoping she gets to do more in the next book.

Ama isn't the only member of her people in this book, a group of 50 of them volunteer to follow Seg, giving him his own private armed force. Seg recruits from various raiders to help train these manics into something resembling a professional armed force. It's an uphill battle the entire way. It also brings back Viren who remains one of my favorite characters and introduces us to Lt. Fismar. Who is Awesome! Fismar is a raider veteran and is one of those guys who has no illusions to the truth of his society but decides to do his best to not sink into despair. He's aware that the whole People vs Slave thing is utter bullshit (one of his good quotes “We think there are People and there are Caj, but the truth is there are People who are Caj and just don't know it.”). Despite having no military training the writers manage to make Fismar a rather believable figure and a good trainer. I would have done things differently (for example I would locked Cerd, an ex-pirate that Viren hates, in a room with Viren until they either killed each other or learned to lived together) but I'm hard pressed to find any real mistakes in the training regime given the resources that Fismar had to work with. I'm less enthralled with Elarn, the People medic but he grows on you through the book, much like Seg did in the last one. Elarn and Shan the pilot are meant to be stand ins for the normal members of the People, so at first you really dislike them but as they remove the sticks from their rears and drop the constant refrain of unearned superiority they become people you can bare, maybe even like. Lissil, the Welf women becomes a character of interest here as well. She frankly disturbs me a lot mainly because I can understand exactly how she became the way she did. Growing up as a member of a permanent underclass, her only means of advancement was the fact that she was pretty and knew how to play men like violins so she did so. Whenever we get a peek into her head it's a cold, rather emotionally barren place, not because Lissil is a bad person but because she was never given a chance to be anything but a cold calculating women who sees men as a tools and playthings. Why wouldn't she? That's all every person in her life ever treated her as...

Frankly I like the second half of the book a lot better. Mainly because it involves taking Seg and Ama taking revenge on people for screwing with them and many parts of the People's society getting wrecked. After the mounting wave of things I hate in the first book, it was a relief to see some of them blown apart or otherwise gutted. The authors take this society that they have dragged us through and unleash the simmering resentments and hatreds that are building up with some rather explosive consequences. Additionally Seg takes his crew of half trained manics and decides to give the folks at home a full blown demonstration of why he's a genius and they're lucky he lets them breath on his planet. He does this by being the first man of the People to reconquer space from the ruins left by the Storm in centuries. Storming (heh) a fortress held by a group of people descendant from a band of exiles who have degenerated into a society straight out of Colorado City, complete with lost boys. Frankly I enjoy seeing people like that getting shot, so it was rather good for me. The combat in this book is improved over the last book. From what I can see Mr. Simpson and Ms. Perron do small scale tight battles a lot better then roaming gun battles. We also get to see Fismar as a killing machine. Which is pretty awesome. I'm gonna be honest here, I would totally read a story just about Fismar!  Or Fismar and Viren doing wacky adventures bouncing from planet to planet! 

All in all Wasteland Renegades averages out to a pretty good book. The writers deserve points for not shying away from the ugliness or logic results of that ugliness within the People's society but damn if that didn't make the book hard to read at points. I really like Ama and Seg despite their flaws which may have been part of the problem. As this book is pulls no punches towards them and almost delights in making them suffer for their mistakes. The later half of the book is where things really start clicking for me (nothing like a good riot to get things rolling am I right?) but all in all, I enjoyed this book, but slightly less then the first. But I am left looking forward to the 3rd book. After all the People need to be punched in their collective faces more and there's at least 2 more books in this series that I just know will deliver me justice. Wasteland Renegades gets a B, the first half dragged for me but I really liked the second half. I'd honestly rather reread the first book but I remain with high hopes for the third.   

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