Vorpal Blade (Looking Glass)
by John Ringo & Travis S. Taylor
Review by Ernest Lilley
Baen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781416521297
Date: 04 September 2007 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Ringo and Taylor are back with the main characters from Looking Glass, their over the top combination of hard science and hardcore mil-SF set where a Higgs-Boson creation opened multiple doors into other universes and really nasty aliens started streaming out of them. Having beaten that invasion, and being given a nifty gadget by a friendly alien race in the bargain, where are they to go? Well, the stars of course, in a converted nuclear submarine with an alien star drive stuck on the end. What they discover is that this space exploring is really hard, yo! Especially on the Marines. If you want science and action, this is the place to get it. If not, stop whining and read something else. "Oorah!."
Dr. William Weaver (a redneck physicist who mountain bikes, and otherwise kicks ass, and is loosely based on second seat author Travis Taylor) is back, along with his bud from the first book, Into The Looking Glass in which somebody else's physics experiment, search for the "god particle" evidentially found it, with bad consequences, opening a string of doorways into alternate universes...all teeming with hostile life eager to take over the Earth. In that book the pair teamed up to understand and defuse the end of the world, which they narrowly did with a combination of hard SF and hardcore combat action, both put into a single story like sardines in a can...
Speaking of which, the story picks up several years later -- Weaver has taken a commission in the US Navy, so he could be part of the action full time, he's put in his time as an officer standing bridge watches and doing the work that khakis do...and now he's heading to the stars in our Nation's first starship, which happens to be a converted Ohio class submarine. Sardines in a can. The submarine as spaceship idea has been used before in The Getaway Special by Jerry Oltion. If motive power isn't a problem, he points out, then a nuclear submarine is already most of the way towards being a spaceship. Or maybe we should give Japanese SF creation "Super-Atragon" credit for figuring it out decades earlier. Either way, We're about to go to the stars in a submarine with an alien drive stuck in the engine room.
If at any time you feel like saying: "That won't work..." just take my advice and don't bother. Ringo and Taylor throw tons of seemingly impossible things at us...and then point out that they're not impossible at all. This duo is a bit out of the box for the staid SF community, but they don't care, as long as there's a fourteen year old boy out there that they can turn to the dark side.
So, Bill's back and getting ready to go to the stars. Not as captain, but as Astrogator, and nominally third in command of the USS Vorpal Blade (the name of the ship comes from Lewis Carroll for the poem "Jabberwocky," or course, as wonderful piece of nonsense as ever written. Along for the ride is Seal Chief Miller and a five years older Mimi and Tuffy. Some quick explanation. Mimi was a little girl caught at the center of the first Higgs Boson event in the last book. It cut a chunk out of Florida, devastated the area for miles and introduced Weaver and Chief Miller. And then Mimi, the only survivor of the event, walks into a triage tent with Tuffy, an alien that looked like a stuffed animal, on her shoulder. Tuffy appears to be some sort of higher order being with a clue into the nature and ultimate disposition of the universe, and the he's taken Mimi on as a charge, bringing her human brain up to speed in the process. There's precedent for this, you know. Or if not, you haven't read your Heinlein. Trust me. This is no place to be if you haven't read your Heinlein.
Anyway, Bill, Miller, Mimi, Tuffy, assorted scientists and a complement of the most over educated Marines ever to ship or space out climb into the Vorpal Blade and zoom into the wild black yonder. It's a "let's see what's out there mission" and they're just going to tool around until they run out of supplies or Marines, which they go through pretty quickly, what with hostile life forms on pretty much every planet they find. The marines aren't wearing red shirts, exactly, or if they are they're buried under the Wyvern powered armor they're encased in, which is a good thing, because hostile alien lifeforms seem to come in nasty and supernasty.
We meet a few more characters that get a lot of airtime, especially Private First Class "Two-Gun" Bergstresser. "Two Gun" to his mates because he's got the more or less unheard of knack to use dual machine pistols simultaneously in his powered armor, and "Berg" to his friends because it's easier. He's a handy character because he's the newbie and we get to listen in while everything is explained to him, and because he's a natural warrior, so we get to watch while he pulls the Marines' fat out of the fire, and because he's young...and there are women around. Oh, he's also an SF fan and a physics buff who hero worships Bill Weaver. Actually, we meet lots of engaging gung ho characters and a mix of annoying and interesting geeks. Just keep in mind that these authors don't hesitate to kill off characters. Nope, they don't hesitate at all.
Vorpal Blade follows in a lot of fine traditions. "Doc" Smith's Skylark of Space leaps to mind. A.E.Van Vogt's Voyage of the Space Beagle is unavoidable, including as does this story, a voyage to see what's out there, a group of folks becoming experts in everything, and an unseen space hitchhiker. Throw in Starship Troopers. Stir well, add the hazards of cosmic space, and enjoy.
Vorpal Blade isn't for everyone. It's a fast paced literary angst free zone where the science density approaches that of neutronium and the heat of military action nears fusion temperatures. You'll love it or hate it, but as long as there's a fourteen year old out there to read it, I expect they'll keep coming up with stories like this.