July 09, 2020
(+++) MASHING IT UP
Solar Warden, Book One: Alien Secrets. By Ian Douglas (pseudonym of William H. Keith, Jr.). Harper Voyager. $7.99.
An utterly ridiculous mixture of tin-foil-hat conspiracy theories with space opera and heroic-military clichés, the first book in Ian Douglas’ new Solar Warden series is impossible to take the slightest bit seriously – but insists that readers do so, since there is perilously little in it played for even the slightest of laughs. You have to admire Douglas’ sheer gall in combining multiple alien races competing on Earth with the “true” meaning of Roswell, New Mexico events with Nazis venturing into space as helpers/captives of nonhuman races with President Eisenhower signing an agreement allowing periodic, small-scale alien abductions of humans. Someone, probably Douglas, is laughing all the way to the bank as this plot builds and builds – in fact, Alien Secrets reads mostly like a scene-setter for future books in the Solar Warden series, although there are enough intergalactic battles to keep fans of military space fantasy (decidedly not science fiction, there being no science here whatsoever) occupied and happy.
Government-conspiracy theorists will find plenty to masticate here, too. Douglas tosses about the usual alphabet soup of government agencies-within-agencies-within-agencies, all operating at cross-purposes with plausible deniability and all dipping unceasingly into the apparently endless “black budget” that conveniently funds just about everything Douglas wants funded. Whenever the plot seems about to bog down, which is infrequently, Douglas can always trot out a new super-secret, well-financed groups of something-or-others, whether human or EBE – “Extraterrestrial Biological Entities.”
Oh, and there is also time travel, because “the Jew physicist Einstein had supposedly demonstrated that space and time were the same thing,” as the resident Nazi baddie notes. Clever, that Einstein.
A plot this sprawlingly silly is actually something of a wonder, with so many strands and so much connective narrative needed that it is amazing to see how Douglas keeps everything neatly in place while tossing in enough action sequences to keep readers interested in the characters. In fact, it is particularly fortunate that Douglas is so skilled presenting battles and other mayhem, since character delineation and development is not and never has been his strong suit. The protagonist here – someone has to be the center around which everything else orbits – is Lieutenant Commander Mark Hunter of the Navy SEALs, the requisite tough-and-hard-as-nails-but-still-human generic military-hero-with-a-soft-side (he is sorry his wife left him and sorry that he has to leave his girlfriend to go on outer-space deployment). Hunter, who of course inspires tremendous loyalty among the men and women he supervises, is of course a reluctant leader and disciplinarian who of course knows the right thing to do is to tell the world about all those aliens and time travelers but of course does not do so because the baddies, human and EBE, of course know where his family and girlfriend can be found and won’t hesitate to do horrible things to them because they are, you know, bad.
Solar Warden both undermines and enlarges the notion that the planet Earth is somehow special. On the one hand, humans are not special as an intelligent, spacefaring race, since there are lots and lots and lots of other, more-advanced ones out there. On the other hand, Earth is special, because it is the focal point for plots and counterplots, battles and chesslike maneuvers, in which alien and time-traveling characters constantly jockey for position because – well, the “because” part of Alien Secrets is a little on the light side, although some elements are clear enough, such as future humans’ determination to prevent present-day humans from blowing themselves up because then the future humans would, like, not exist, ok?
Douglas’ clever authorial touches abound here, notably including his creation of wildly outré plot-supporting quotations that he then states are “attributed” to real historical figures, from Eisenhower to Neil Armstrong. The result is a tiny veneer of plausibility overlaid on the complete nonsense of the story. Although nominally set in the present – make that an “alternative present,” one of those conveniences of which Douglas takes full advantage – the book exists primarily to give the background of the launch of a new military space organization called the Interstellar Marine Force (a singularly uninspired name). It is that force’s usual bold journey to the usual places where humans have never been, to assert human moral superiority (or something) and figure out what the various EBE factions are fighting about and when and how Earth fits into whatever it is (or something), that Alien Secrets details. Damn the absurdity – full speed ahead, to misquote David Farragut’s famed order, “Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead,” which Farragut actually did not say, except maybe in some yet-to-be-written Ian Douglas book. Damn something, in any case, and full speed to somewhere!