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FORTRESS FRONTIER by Myke Cole

FortressFrontier_PBB_FINAL FORTRESS FRONTER (SHADOW OPS: Book Two)

Myke Cole (mykecole.com)

Headline (www.headline.co.uk)

£7.99

Colonel Alan Bookbinder, a Pentagon-based paper-pusher, wakes from a nightmare to the feeling that he is drowning. Before the day is out, it is clear that Colonel Bookbinder has come up Latent, though he has not yet Manifested any particular powers. Surrendering himself to the SOC, he finds himself in a new office, doing the same old job. This office is in Forward Operating Base Frontier, in the alternate plane known as the Source. When Oscar Britton effects his escape, leaving what remains of the base open to almost-constant goblin attack, Bookbinder finds himself drawn out of his comfort zone, fighting for the survival of the base and his people. His options limited, the colonel finds himself on a collision course with the very man who left them all to perish.

Rather than picking up immediately following the end of the first book in the series, Control Point, Myke Cole takes us back in time and introduces us to Colonel Alan Bookbinder, and reintroduces us to this brave new post-Great Reawakening world from a new point of view. Career Army, Bookbinder has, nonetheless, never served in combat. Despite his rank, he does not have the respect of his subordinates, and feels that he doesn’t really deserve it. In many ways, Bookbinder is Oscar Britton’s opposite: when he discovers that he is Latent, he surrenders himself willingly to the SOC and finds himself doing the same job in a new base. Where Oscar is a combat veteran who is starting to question the methods of the Army in which he serves, Bookbinder finds himself recreated as a new man through his experiences in the Source: his fear is gone, replaced by a desire to not only lead, but to lead from the front; he finds himself endowed with a new sense of authority and quickly discovers that he has the respect of the relatively small group of men and women under his command.

As well as introducing this new central character, and the secondary characters that form around his storyline, Cole uses Bookbinder’s story to remind the reader of what has gone before: the rules of this strange new world, the various types of magic, and the makeup of the people based at FOB Frontier. He manages to re-cover a lot of ground while pushing the story forward and keeping the reader engaged. It’s also an interesting device in allowing the reader to see what happened inside the base when Oscar and his friends made their bid for freedom, and shows the consequences of the action that closed the first book.

When Bookbinder is firmly bedded in, Cole eventually returns us to Oscar, and picks up where he left off. Here, a lot of the groundwork prepared in the first novel begins to pay off, as Oscar tries to find a movement that will allow him to expose what is going on, and change how Latents are viewed by the rest of the world. The insurgencies mentioned in the first book begin to play a greater role here, and it’s no surprise that they view Oscar – sometime Public Enemy Number One – as something of a hero. Here, too, we see an expansion of some of themes Cole touched upon during Control Point: the mistrust between normal humans and this new breed of Latents, and the origins of this schism. It’s an interesting – and all-too-plausible – take on that age-old superhero problem.

As the story moves towards its final act, the paths of Britton and Bookbinder begin to converge, as it becomes clear that Oscar may be the only person alive who can help Bookbinder to save his people. On the journey, we see whole new swathes of the Source, and meet a handful of new races that may have been glimpsed, or hinted at, before. In one of the book’s most surprising turns, we run across an old, and completely unexpected, friend, serving to close off – perhaps a little too conveniently – one major plotline in the process.

With most of the groundwork laid in Control Point, Cole is free to spend his time telling a good solid story this time around. Once again, the use of fictional epigraphs – interviews, document excerpts, and the like – at the start of each chapter serve to expand our knowledge of the world without encroaching on the on-going story. Fortress Frontier feels a lot less disjointed than its predecessor; there is a more coherent flow to events, perhaps helped by the fact that the story is split across two main characters this time around, and less a sense of one short mission following another with no real connection between them beyond the characters taking part.

Myke Cole has found the perfect niche for his work. Military fantasy with a dash of science fiction, Fortress Frontier shows us a whole new side to the Shadow Ops world to which Control Point first introduced us. The introduction of a new central character gives us a chance to get a slightly different perspective on what we thought we already knew without contradicting anything that has gone before, while still managing to move the plot on considerably by the book’s action-packed ending. As fast-paced as the first, Fortress Frontier is, however, a much different beast: the origin story is out of the way; now it’s time to get down to business, and Myke Cole delivers beyond expectations. There is much to love here, and the reader is sure to come away with an intense need to find out what’s next.

GUEST POST: Falling Between the Genre Cracks by MYKE COLE

Myke Cole Name: MYKE COLE

Author of: CONTROL POINT (SHADOW OPS 1) (2012)
                 FORTRESS FRONTIER (SHADOW OPS 2) (2013)

On the web: mykecole.com

On Twitter: @MykeCole

To celebrate the publication of his second novel, and the second book in his Shadow Ops series, Fortress Frontier, I am very pleased to welcome Myke Cole back to Reader Dad. This time around, Myke discusses genre, and how his work fits – or doesn’t – inside the conventional boxes that people use to categorise fiction. My own review of Fortress Frontier will be live soon, so be sure to check back to see what I thought. In the meantime, I’ll hand over to Myke Cole.

FortressFrontier_PBB_FINALWith the SHADOW OPS series, I’m sometimes accused of creating my own subgenre. It’s a hard military story! It’s high fantasy a la Tolkien! It’s a comic book superhero tale! At cons, I’m constantly put on military science-fiction panels.

People like their boxes. Sales people like them because it helps them to target specific audience segments. Retailers like them because they help them organize their wares. Demographers like them, because they help them categorize data that they feed to said sales folks and retailers. This gets expressed in the marketplace, and folks pick up on it. Urban fantasy appeals primarily to this audience, epic fantasy to that one. We get what is commonly called our "consumer culture."

This is good to the extent that it sells books. Believe me, writers love to sell books. But it’s not so good when you’re trying to wrap your head around your work.

Here’s the truth: I have worked either in or around the military for my entire professional life. I was raised on Tolkien novels and yearlong D&D campaigns. My mom told me from an early age that our family produced men of letters, and that I shouldn’t waste my time with math and science. 9/11 changed me, as it changed the whole world.

All of these things were boxes not so different from the ones the sales folks and retailers are using. They’re the frames I use to break my experience into bite-sized chunks that I can actually explain to someone. Nobody can truly share the totality of life with another person, the best we can do is say, “this is like that.”

In writing the SHADOW OPS series, I didn’t set out to fit into any sub-genre. I certainly didn’t set out to create one. I grew up reading fantasy stories and decided I wanted to tell one. I drew on the experiences in my life, in the military, as a gaming and fantasy nerd. I tried to figure out a way I could relate them to an audience, really make them thrum and resonate with all of the emotion and drama they held for me.

And I found that I couldn’t. So I used boxes. It made it easier.

And in the end, my boxes fit into other boxes. Publishers and retailers and reviewers boiled all of that down into three words: “Contemporary Military Fantasy.”

That’s limiting. In my more prima donna artist moments, I rail against it.

But the truth is, it helps. And that means my story reaches more people.

I’ll take it.

GUEST POST: On the Origins of SHADOW OPS by MYKE COLE

Myke Cole Name: MYKE COLE

Author of: CONTROL POINT (SHADOW OPS 1) (2012)

On the web: mykecole.com

On Twitter: @MykeCole

Myke Cole Blog Tour

I’m very pleased to introduce our first guest post here at Reader Dad. Myke Cole, author of Control Point, the first book in the Shadow Ops series, has very kindly written an essay about the origins of the Shadow Ops world. So, without further ado, I’ll let him get on with it.

SHADOW OPS is definitely a military story. But I’ve also written satire. I’ve written high fantasy, I’ve written horror, I’ve written straight science fiction. Heck, I even wrote a zombie love story. But when people talk about my fiction, it’s always Myke Cole the MILITARY writer. People seem to think I’m a one-trick-pony.

They’re wrong.

I’m a two-trick-pony.

Those two tricks form the basis of the SHADOW OPS series and, when you think about it, makes my writing it almost inevitable. The tricks are: 1.) A deep and abiding love of all things military. 2.) A traditional nerd upbringing (raised on Dungeons & Dragons, comic books and fantasy novels).

It began with a suit of armor.

My mother took me to the Metropolitan Museum when I was a kid, and from the first sight of that armor, I knew that I wanted to be a knight when I grew up (and not the Judy Dench/Paul McCartney kind. The Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar kind).

I was absolutely undeterred by her explanation that knighthood was an occupation in . . . decline . . . in the 21st century. I knew they were warriors, and so I embraced every text I could find on the fighting man, and trained myself in the arena of imagination provided by role-playing games. Always the Paladin or Fighter, I waded into the thick of things, sword in hand, usually getting killed in the first round of combat. I devoured every story I could find about knights, from the classic legends of Sir Thomas Mallory to the modern reimaginings of Terry Brooks.

You’d think that as I grew up I’d realize mom was right.

But she wasn’t.

Real fighting knighthood never truly died. It evolved into a nearly unrecognizable shape as the heart of the modern military officer corps. I still clung to my fantasy imaginings of knights, from Aragorn to Galahad to Ned Stark, but now they were informed by an older man’s familiarity with the realities of evolved technology, military bureaucracy and the blurring (at least on the surface) of class distinctions we have in the modern world.

Years later, when I first girded on my officer’s saber, the little boy in me sang. I was as much of a knight as I could ever be, true to both the modern evolution of the profession and the fantasy underpinnings that wouldn’t let me stop dreaming about it. That whole saluting thing? We’re miming raising a medieval helmet-visor, folks.

Writing SHADOW OPS felt the same way. It was . . . right, somehow. A story about military sorcerers? That’s as me as it gets. It was like coming home.

I like to think of myself as a complex guy, especially in my writing. But “military” writer? Sure. I’ll take it.

CONTROL POINT by Myke Cole

Control-Point CONTROL POINT (SHADOW OPS: Book One)

Myke Cole (mykecole.com)

Headline (www.headline.co.uk)

£7.99

In the aftermath of the Great Reawakening, the world is a different place. Magic has returned, and people across the globe are turning up Latent, Manifesting in any one of a handful of schools of magic. Those who Manifest in the legal schools (Pyromancy, Hydromancy, Terramancy, Aeromancy, Physiomancy) have the option of joining the Supernatural Operations Corps, and using their newfound skills for the good of mankind. Those who run – Selfers – are considered dangerous criminals, and eliminated accordingly. Those who Manifest in one of the Prohibited schools – Probes – don’t have the same luxury; their skills are much more rare, but much more dangerous, and they are dealt with quickly. Lieutenant Oscar Britton is a Marine helicopter pilot assigned to a team whose job is to provide support to SOC when dealing with Selfers or Probes; he’s well aware of the consequences, so when he Manifests in one of the Prohibited schools – Oscar has the ability to open doors to another dimension – he runs. Hunted down and captured, he discovers that the rumours of a secret training base are true: Oscar finds himself enrolled as a contractor and dropped into the middle of a secret war in a different world.

Myke Cole sets the tone of Control Point – his first novel, and the start of his Shadow Ops series – very early on. The action starts almost from the first page, and the story progresses through a series of action-packed – and, often, breath-taking – set-pieces to an arbitrary point that acts as the end of the book (think of the final sequence in The Empire Strikes Back, which is less an ending, and more a quick breath between two action-packed chapters of a larger story). When we first meet Oscar Britton, he is flying into action as part of a team tasked with bringing down a pair of Selfers. Britton is a career army man, but the actions of the SOC and the necessity of their mission – namely the murder of two teenagers – play on his conscience and he finds himself questioning his loyalties. This is a theme that runs throughout the book and, while some of his interior monologue comes across as decidedly whiny, it gives the reader a reason to root for Oscar – he’s a man of principles, the man we hope we would be, should we find ourselves in the same situation.

Unusually for this type of fast-paced action story, Control Point comes with a vast amount of backstory, drip-fed to the reader through chapter headers and conversations between characters. It’s here that we learn about the disaster at the Lincoln Memorial that led to the current controls on magic, about the Native American insurgency that forms a background to much of the story and about the different schools of magic, and the controls enforced on them. On top of this backstory, Cole has created an alternate dimension – the Source – and a race of beings – the Goblins – that inhabit it, and it is here that much of the novel’s action takes place. The marriage of magic and state-of-the-art military technology works well, and adds a layer of realism that might otherwise have been missing. As with Marvel’s X-Men or Samit Basu’s Turbulence, Cole also examines the relationship between these new magical post-humans and the rest of the human race, and we find similar themes coming through: distrust, fear, power-hunger.

Control Point is what it is: a scene-setter, the first part of a much larger work that promises to be the very best of military fantasy. As Oscar completes his training, we move from one fight scenario to another, each one designed to show not only what Oscar is capable of, but also the capabilities of his colleagues and his enemies. At times it feels slightly disjointed, like these are individual short stories whose only common denominator is the characters that populate them, but it is the most effective way to show us what we need to know for the coming instalments of the series. “Show, don’t tell” is advice often given to writers, and Cole does just that, giving us everything we need without slowing the pace or interrupting the flow of the story.

Smart, funny and packed to the endpapers with action, Control Point is a fast, fun read that sets up what promises to be an exciting new series. Myke Cole has written a first novel that finds the perfect balance between action and story, and filled it with characters compelling enough to make us want to learn more about them. The ending-that-isn’t is the perfect stopping point, and the perfect ploy: there is more to come, and anyone who has read this far is unlikely to want to miss it. A blend of military, fantasy and science fiction, Control Point and the Shadow Ops series will have broad appeal, making Myke Cole one to watch.

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