I’ve been reading Mr. Larson for a while now & the one thing I have to state is that I’m really glad I haven’t given up on him.  Some of his earlier books were a bit hard to get through and while they had elements that were interesting they didn’t necessarily live up to the promise – this was probably most evident in Swarm (reviewed here) as it started out so well, but just got gradually more and more annoying and tiresome.  The Undying Mercenaries series though seems to be a showing of his true potential and as long as he doesn’t flog a dead horse past its expiration date, I have really high hopes for it!

In a similar vein to the Legion series’ of books – Book 1 Marine Cadet (by Tim C Taylor) reviewed here – Earth has been contacted by the “Galactics” and given an ultimatum if they want to stay alive.  In Legion, Earth had to give up millions of its own children to become fodder in the Galactics wars and battles.  Here it’s slightly different.  Every planet has to provide at least one trade good that is unique to their world, something that cannot be copied or stolen by another world in that sector.  The solution to this request was similar … Earth was going to be supplying mercenaries.  Soldiers that the other planets could use in their own internal struggles at a price.

Sad as it is, the theme seems to be fairly constant amongst SciFi authors that one of the things Humans do best is fight.  This is something I remember reading for decades in books like The Man Kzin Wars and others of a similar vein.  While I’d like to believe that we can offer more, I can understand this assumption, especially if we are the ones being contacted!  One would rightly assume that the people doing the contacting have more available to them in terms of technology and knowledge than we do! However, I think you’d agree that humanity as a group being only suitable for soldiers is somewhat depressing!

Anyways, with the above being said, this is actually a very engaging and enjoyable story.  Similar to pulp SciFi it still has a hard and gritty realism to it that is quite enthralling.  Jame McGill is our primary protagonist although there are quite a few other characters that you’ll grow to know throughout the book also – Carlos, Natasha, Graves and Harris to name but a few – and unlike other series of a similar nature, you really can invest yourself in these characters as Humanity made a very smart purchase with its initial fund of Galactic Credits.  See the reason this series is called – Undying Mercenaries – is because they initially purchased a machine that can literally recreate a copy of someone.  These are not clones but are rather new bodies with all of the memories and abilities of the originals.  Restricted (by Galactic Law) to a single copy at a time, the mercenaries are able to constantly replenish their forces and while they may at times get wiped out, they tend to never lose!

Overall the weapons and technology at play in this series are believable and realistic and make sense.  While the Galactic Empire possess faster that light travel, that is written more as a “black box” without too much detail of wormholes or anything of the like.  Guns are guns and armor is armor.  The biggest technological marvel at play in the book is the ability of the mercenaries to return from the dead and that is given just the right amount of detail.

Steel World tells the story of James’ first missions as a mercenary and his acceptance into Legion Varus.  Exposed to a planet ruled by Dinosaurs is nothing if not intimidating and it was really refreshing to see that “modern” technology was not automatically superior to mass.  While the eventual outcome was never really in doubt, some of the twists and turns along the way were quite interesting and really well written.  You could almost feel the Dino’s rushing the wall in preparation of a new tasty mercenary snack! As the story progresses you can definitely see James grow into a more interesting character and change from a callow youth into a man.  While he’s still a bit of a womanizer, it’s obvious that he actually cares about the people he’s around and tries to always do the best he can for them.

I’ve recently taken to reading quite a few different self published titles (The In Her Name series is a great one if you’re interested in doing the same) and came across this title in my search on Goodreads.

Now I have to be honest, one of the factors in choosing self published vs. mainstream is obviously the price (most of the series either offer an initial book free or a book for a quarter of the cost of one published through regular channels) – but at the same time while the books are cheaper, the idea’s, story and overall content needs to hold up to similar books published in mainstream media otherwise it just becomes annoying!

Fortunately – SWARM meets all of my requirements and has been an engrossing and interesting read. It doesn’t necessarily present anything new – it does however jumble up the standard content into a nice little package that simply works.

What’s it all about?

#1 in a series that has already reached 7 books, SWARM introduces us to Kyle Riggs – a simple gentleman farmer (who’s a Computer Science professor at his local University) and his family.

Humanity has been visited by hundreds of alien space ships, and these ships that have initially approached Earth in Asia are gradually moving across the Earth “sampling” humans as they go.

Kyle is the third member of his household to be “sampled” after they first capture his son and daughter and in both cases drop their dead bodies back on his farm. Kyle enraged with the death of his family reacts differently when he too is captured by the ship and immediately fights back. The ship puts him through a sequence of brutal tests (similar to the movie Cube and its sequels) to test his suitability and once Kyle manages to successfully negotiate these tests he is put in command of the vessel.

Here Kyle discovers that the ship is actually composed of nanites (small robotic machines) and that there was no “alien” that ordered the death of his family, but rather a complex AI (Artificial Intelligence) that was simply completing its prime directive of finding a suitable commander.

What Happens Next?

Well the above actually takes place in probably the first quarter or third of the book, so by no means is it the core of the story and while it definitely drives quite a bit of the story-line (the other ships that have not yet found a commander for example are continuing to search the Earth and in essence killing humans by the hundreds until a suitable individual can be found), humanity as such fears the ships and by inference the people who are now commanding them!

We discover later that the ships are sent by another party to actually help humanity as the Earth is about to be attacked by another race and their only hope for survival is through the ships themselves. I won’t describe too much more as I think that would only spoil the story and to be honest for less than £2 on Amazon its in everyone’s budget!

Similarities to other books/series

I actually need your help to identify the name of a book here but, there was one I read a couple of years ago where an alien ship was attacking the Earth on a regular cycle. Each time the ship attacked a group of humans were dispatched to the ship to try and solve it – it was expected that 80%-100% of the humans sent would die each time, and if they did fail, a city on Earth would be destroyed. If they managed to succeed, they would obtain some new technology or secret that would help the human race fight the next battle, as each time the ship came, the tests and challenges were different and often more difficult than the previous time. The twist with this book was that while the challengers had a controller – humanity itself was also involved in guiding them through the challenges by making wagers and suggestions through the Internet and gambling on the outcome of those suggestions.

As you can see, the first part of the description very closely matches the issues and problems that Kyle Riggs experienced on his first exposure to his alien ship – The Alamo.

Overall Thoughts

Have you had those books that you can’t put down? They aren’t high prose, they don’t introduce any new ideas or anything new or groundbreaking, but rather they are almost like coming home to a good friend and someone that you’re just really comfortable with. SWARM is exactly that … its a simple and easy read that basically hits all of the right buttons. If you’re at all into Military SciFi this is one that you should get. I expect that you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

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I recognized the name B.V.Larson first as one that I’d read before but I couldn’t figure out or exactly remember where I’d heard of him, but as this was another find on Kindle Unlimited, I thought it was definitely worth pursuing and I’m actually really glad I did.

His previous books – one of which I’ve reviewed already on this site – were good.  This one however is really good!  It reminds me a lot of the Nicholas Seafort series which starts with Midshipman’s Hope & while that series is definitely better written and quite possibly more interesting, this one has quite a bit of promise!  Sorry I know that comparison seems like I’m not really selling it, but this book actually is quite interesting and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

As a really quick summary the story boils down to something like the following.  Earth had established a small interstellar empire with several different colony worlds and more continually being founded. However when a solar flare disrupts the wormhole network that connects these splintered colonies together, Earth is left alone once more.  With widespread devestation throughout the solar system, the colonies are left to wither as a secondary concern and gradually Earth focuses more and more on issues closer to hom.  Hundreds of years later however, it seems that the colonies haven’t necessarily forgotten or even forgiven Earth for their abandonment and they have some lessons of their own they want to deliver.

While it starts out quite slowly – I have to admit I almost gave it up while reading the 1st quarter of the book – it becomes quite interesting and enjoyable once they discover the derelict in space and its single lone occupant.  When she describes the world that she came from and her people as well as the ongoing struggle her people are currently in the midst of – well it just entices you even more.  The enemy are particularly well designed and conceived and with their abilities – well, they could be literally anyone!

Is it to the caliber of David Weber or the aforementioned author (David Feintuch) of the Nicholas Seafort saga?  No, its not – the ideas are interesting and the characters are enjoyable.  You can definitely see a progression in the writing style of Mr. Larson from his Swarm series of books (I enjoyed book 1 in this series as you can see from my review there, however that enjoyment waned as I read the rest of the series unfortunately) and this is not only written better, the underlying ideas/thoughts and concepts are presented in a more cogent manner.  His characterization of the Guard forces and their underlying sense of loyalty and ethics is particularly good and I very much enjoyed this.