|The titular veteran is Jakob Douglas, a Scottish cyborg who
gave decades of his life and a large proportion of his original body to humanity's total
war against Them, and who plans to spend his remaining years drunk and bombed out in a VR
cubicle. He's called out of retirement by his bastard CO when an alien craft crashes just
outside Dundee, sparking fears of infiltration by Them. Douglas soon discovers that he's
not the first veteran to be called on for such a mission, and the more he discovers about
exactly what They are and what Their plans are - and what his own superiors' plans are -
the more trouble he finds himself in.
Readers might imagine that Douglas will be the
standard-issue grizzled ex-soldier who's seen it all, and that his misadventures - in line
with the back cover comparison with Richard Morgan - will be one long stream of hardware
specifications, minutely detailed fight scenes and macho bullshit. Well, there's a bit of
that, certainly, but there's more to it than just that. It's clear to the other
characters, and to the reader, and eventually to Douglas himself that he's a martyr to his
own self-pity. When his narrative enters the realms of macho BS, Douglas acknowledges it
and seems somewhat embarrassed by it - he's too world-weary to be a total bastard.
Admittedly the fight scenes are lovingly detailed and the hardware is
described ad nauseum.
The initial stages of the story are a bit contrived - Douglas wonders why on earth he
so readily does what he does once things start to go wrong, and so will you. But once the
story gets properly going, convenience is cast aside. The gathered protagonists argue over
their actions convincingly and at length from their various standpoints, and the
consequences of their choices stick - barring a certain amount of reconstructive surgery,
that is. Characters who go toe-to-toe with better armed opponents get the shit kicked out
of them; characters who are irradiated spend the rest of the book dying from radiation
sickness. The ending is carefully worked towards and feels suitably hard-won. Throughout,
Gavin Smith maintains a careful balance of humour, grimness and self-awareness that keeps
the book from becoming boring. A promising debut novel.