Books : reviews

Joel Shepherd.
Prometheus. 2001

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 11 July 2010

Cassandra Kresnov is a synthetic person, a super-soldier, templated from a human, but brainwashed and moulded to fight in the war for the League against the Federation. But she is a special model, more intelligent, more creative, than the regulars. She comes to realise that as the war finishes, the League will have no use for her kind. When her whole team is wiped out in an "incident", she goes AWOL, and moves to the Federation, in search of a new life. She just wants to be an ordinary human civilian, but her past soon catches up with her.

This is a fun romp of slam-bam action, tricksy multi-sided politics, debates about what it means to be human, and loving lingering descriptions of a huge city. Sandy is on one hand a superior being, being ultra strong, ultra fast, and highly intelligent. On the other hand, she is very young, only 14 years have passed since she was created, and most of that time has been spent at war. It's interesting to watch her grow, to see her coming to terms with her differences, and to see the reactions of the ordinary humans she has to work with. And there's lots of descriptions of the huge city.

Joel Shepherd.
Prometheus. 2003

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 7 August 2010

Cassandra Kresnov, synthetic person, super-soldier on the run from the League who made her, has found a place in the Federation, as part of Callay's CSA's elite SWAT team. But not everyone in the Federation is pleased at her presence, or even existence, and the conspiracy she helped uncover in Crossover has opened the flood gates to politicking, rioting, terrorism, and other manoeuvrings of desperate factions. So, just another day in the life of the super-city Tanusha.

Another fun romp, as Cassandra continues her discovery of who she is, and of how a soldier needs to learn to navigate the tricky politics of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-dingbat society. There's still the love-affair with the megopolis of Tanusha, and I'm beginning to feel the need for some wilderness.

There is closure at the end of the book, but it has the clear feel of being the "middle of a trilogy": after the scene setting of the first, the second lays the groundwork for the final denouement. Good groundwork, and I'm looking forward to the finale.

Joel Shepherd.
Prometheus. 2004

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 5 September 2010

It's now two years after the events in Breakaway. Talks are still going on about relocating the Federation HQ, and some don't like the fact it will be leaving Earth. In particular, the Federation Fifth Fleet is full of reactionaries, and they have put themselves in Callay orbit, threatening a blockade. Synthetic person Commander Cassandra Kresnov is now out in the open, and second in command of the expanded Callay Defence Force. But secret intelligence, and attempts on her life, reveal that she has a "killswitch" embedded in her brainstem. She must go undercover to avoid destruction, and to discover the traitor in the Callay government hierarchy.

Yet more great slam-bam action, in a complex political scenario with many different factions and fluid alliances. Sandy is now recognised by the average Callayan-in-the-street, so going undercover is no easy task. Also her relationship with her ex-GI colleague Chu is well developed to show the problems even fully integrated GIs still have. There is closure to the trilogy, but with enough ongoing threads that you can guess Sandy will still be having problems and adventures for the foreseeable future.

Joel Shepherd.
23 Years on Fire.
Prometheus. 2013

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 26 May 2016

Commander Cassandra “Sandy” Kresnov has her hands full. She must lead an assault against the Federation world of Pyeongwha, where a terrible sociological phenomenon has unleashed hell against the civilian population. But she must also set her sights on a portion of League space known as New Torah, where a ruthless regime of corporations is building new synthetic soldiers and taking the technology in alarming directions. No one else is willing—or able—to stop them.

On the Torahn world of Pantala, Sandy encounters betrayal, crisis, and conspiracy on a scale even she had not previously imagined. Most challenging of all, she meets three young street kids who stir emotions in her that she didn’t think she could feel. Can the Federation’s most lethal killer afford unexpected sentiment?. It she is forced to choose between them and her mission, what will the cost be—not only to her cause, but also to her soul?

It is five years since the events of Killswitch, and Sandy Kresnov has settled into her new life, surrounded by her friends and their families. She even has a biographer! But then terrible events are uncovered on the Federations world of Pyeongwha, in the deadly grip of Compulsive Narrative Syndrome, and she must go help sort that out. But her actions lead to further problems, and when related issues are uncovered on the abandoned League world of New Torah, she needs to sort those out too, with or without the help of the Federation. What she discovers there threatens the existence of both the League and the Federation, and even has the reclusive alien Talee worried enough to intervene.

This is a great return to the Kresnov-verse, with the usual tricky politics, the feel of large diverse planets in a large diverse galaxy, lots of slam-bang violence, but no easy solutions. Kresnov has opened a huge can of worms here, which even her super-augmented powers might not be able to help with. And she has also opened a smaller, more personal, can of worms, which threatens to disrupt her focus, but might end up helping her grow in ways she never imagined.

Joel Shepherd.
Operation Shield.
Prometheus. 2014

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 10 July 2016

Cassandra “Sandy” Kresnov, a synthetic GI, has uncovered the terrible truth about the technology that created her. That technology, misused in her former home, now threatens all humanity with catastrophe. After losing fellow GIs in a disastrous battle, Sandy learns of evidence on Droze—the world almost nuked in the fight—that points to serious techno-social instabilities within the League. The League’s refusal to negotiate with the Federation on these issues, which include whether to emancipate synthetic citizens and ban the use of Gls as guinea pigs, will most likely lead to war if not resolved. But there are those who will go to any lengths to avoid a new conflict, even threatening the removal by force of Sandy’s own branch of the Federal Security Agency.

Even more frightening for Sandy is the potential threat to the three young street kids she brought back from the crime-ridden world of Droze to her home on Callay. Caring for these children, Sandy discovers maternal feelings she had not known she possessed. Can she reconcile the dangers of her duties as a soldier and her responsibilities as a combat tactician with the safety of her new family—the thing that means more to her than any cause she’s ever believed in or battle she’s ever fought?

Sandy Kresnov is back home on Callay with her new family, learning how to be a parent. But, being Sandy, she is doing that in the middle of a growing interplanetary disaster that precipitates a political crisis at home.

This has a middle-of-trilogy feel, as the political crisis is just a step on the way to the interplanetary crisis to come. But that is accompanied by Sandy’s parenting technique, which can be summed up as “brutally honest”: something the three kids desperately need. Watching them learn to trust each other is about as un-saccharine as it gets, and there is plenty of the usual slam-bang violence as Sandy ploughs through the bad guys. These kids are clearly going to play an important role in whatever happens next.

Joel Shepherd.
Prometheus. 2015

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 5 October 2016

A quarter of a million people die in the destruction of the moon Cresta. The League civil war is accelerating out of control, but projections indicate that as their technologically induced sociological dysfunction continues, all of humanity may face a similar fate. In the aftermath of Cresta’s destruction, Cassandra “Sandy” Kresnov discovers just how far the dysfunction has gone. The alien Talee have seen this before, and they are terrified of anything threatening a recurrence.

Meanwhile, Sandy’s old nemesis Renaldo Takewashi, the self-proclaimed “father” of synthetic intelligence, comes to the Federation seeking asylum. Takewashi may even have a solution: previously unknown Talee technology implanted into a human-child subject—Sandy’s little boy, Kiril. But it is exactly this technology the Talee fear, and they will exterminate anyone caught using it.

Now, Sandy must fight to save her family from a terrible new threat. But doing so may plunge humanity into another destructive war between humans—or worse, against the massively advanced Talee. And what final secret are the Talee protecting about the origins of synthetic humans like Sandy that could either liberate Sandy’s fellow synthetics from bondage or spell disaster for all humanity?

The conclusion to the second Kresnov trilogy brings the sort of deep moral questions combined with high-octane action that we are used to: what does it mean to be human? and what is the body count today?

The mysterious Talee finally put in an appearance, and we get not one but two shattering revelations about their past. The previously hands-off Talee are out to kill Sandy’s adopted son Kiril because of the technology in his head. Sandy objects, strenuously. But when she comes face-to-face with them, and learns the truth about them, they make her an offer she may not be able to refuse.

This is a fitting conclusion to the series: many loose ends are tidied up, we learn more about Compulsive Narrative Syndrome and the Talee, about the benefits and downsides to being a synthetic person, and we watch the satisfyingly uncute kids grow up further. I’d like to see a third trilogy, where Sandy has to cope with her atypical kids as young adults.