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Blackcollar: The Judas Solution by Timothy Zahn
Review by Drew Bittner
Baen Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 1416520651
Date: 23 May, 2006 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Earth is a beaten, subjugated world--but the human spirit is not yet broken. Damon Lathe and his small group of elite blackcollar soldiers have not given up the resistance against the Ryqril who have conquered mankind's homeworld.

This is the story of Blackcollar 2: Judas Solution, the third in Timothy Zahn's Blackcollar series. In this installment, blackcollar (and clone) Allan Caine is captured by forces working for the Ryqril conquerors, who substitute an identical clone in his place. Unaware of the substitution, blackcollar commander Damon Lathe forges ahead with his plans to attack the aliens in two places at once. One team will head to Earth and try to secure the technology hidden inside Aegis Mountain, once the headquarters of Earth's military forces.

The other team will head for the planet Khala, where the Ryqril are constructing a command post--an irresistible target and almost certainly a trap for the blackcollars. But the potential reward cannot be passed up. Lathe must come up with a strategy to break into an impregnable fortress under heavy fire... even as the traitor in their midst watches and reports back to Jamus Galway, a collaborator and counter-insurrection expert. Galway has his own inner struggles in cooperating with the volatile and capricious Ryqril, but if his plan succeeds, Caine's team will be the Ryqril's unwitting pawns.

On Earth, the mission goes astray when a faulty glider leaves two team members stranded. Jensen, who nurses a grudge over the death of his best friend, sets out for Aegis Mountain and encounters a man whose revenge has waited far longer.

Zahn returns to one of his best-known creations after 20 years away, but the result is merely good instead of stellar. The blackcollars have some steep challenges, including the truculent Tactor Shaw (a blackcollar commander who is almost as much obstacle as ally), the criminal boss Reger, and Anne Silcox, leader of a rebel group who has access to Whiplash--the drug that breaks Ryqril loyalty conditioning. The problem is that the characters don't seem to be pushing their limits; they have their individual issues, but the danger seems to be remote. There's rarely a feeling that they are not adequate to the challenges they face.

Also, the nominal "title" character--Karl Judas--is a relative nonentity in the book, with little to do and no decisive role in the conflict. There are some reasons for this but his relative passivity is a clinker.

On the positive side, several of the secondary characters--including the desolate, earnest Foxleigh and the rookie blackcollar Flynn--have some good moments and contribute to the overall feel of a down-but-not-out humanity. The paranoia created by the revelation of Whiplash, as well as Caine's creative escape attempt, enrich the novel's main plots with entertaining side-stories.

While not Zahn's foremost work, Blackcollar 2 still delivers plenty of bang for the buck. Combat sf fans will not be disappointed.

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