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Through Struggle, the Stars (The Human Reach) Paperback – August 26, 2011
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About the Author
John J. Lumpkin, the author of Through Struggle, the Stars, was born in 1973 in San Antonio, Texas, and educated at Texas Christian University, and, lately, the University of Colorado at Boulder. A former military affairs and national security reporter for the Albuquerque Journal and the Associated Press, his experience includes covering 9-11, walking the halls of CIA headquarters, and racing through Baghdad and Kabul in military convoys. He may also be the only person who has had a drink with both Donald Rumsfeld and Steve-O from Jackass (but, to be clear, not at the same time). Now a writer and teacher, he lives outside of Boulder, Colorado.
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Our author here makes a few assumptions to allow for the setting he wants but carries through on them beautifully. You can tell he thought through the history of this setting and when characters reference prior events, you know that it's not a throwaway but a reference to something that has been thought through. Too often you end up with bad writing where some major historical event that should have had an influence on the story up to this point gets made up five minutes before getting shoehorned into the story.
I won't spoil the storyline too much but put it like this: the nations of the Earth have made it into space. With a seemingly unlimited number of planets to settle, war should be a thing of the past. Everyone has warships and navies but nobody really expects a war to happen. Serious people wouldn't allow it, right? Same thinking that predominated Europe before WWI. Events carry through logically from there.
This is a first novel in a larger setting and I'm extremely interested to see where he's going with it.
The main character is slightly predictable (an introverted but highly intelligent, very capable dude) but none of the characters feel fake or too one-dimensional.
The action is very well done. Battles are clearly described and easy to visualize. I was never sure ahead of time which side would win any engagement and it was interesting and exciting to learn how it all played out.
Some on the situations (old friends "randomly" meeting in the middle of a war zone) might seem a little contrived, but I'm pretty sure that has happened more than a few times in real wars.
The only real issues I'd point out are the occasional (probably less than 10 in the whole book) wrong punctuation or conjunctive word used and not caught by the editor. Also, a few times (in battles I believe) the narrative perspective would change from one paragraph to the next, and then back afterward. Didn't ruin anything for me, just threw me off for a second or two. I have the kindle version so maybe the print one got more error checking???
Overall this book was a great story and I loved reading it. If I didn't care about scientific plausibility and the worlds internal consistency I might knock it down to a 4, but I do and Lumpkins delivers those and more. I can't give it less than 5.
Also, this author created a mod for the PC game "XCOM: Enemy Within" and that mod is fantastic. That's actually how I heard about the author and this book. If you play PC games definitely check it out, it's free. Search "Long War mod" (on google, not amazon) and you should be able to find it.
Thoroughly enjoyed it, plan to get the next one. If you like sci-fi that focuses on realistic science, space, war, military life and a well-turned story, you'll like this. It's far better than average... I'd compare it favorably to Weber's early Honorverse novels, back when he actually turned out good product.
John Lumpkin, on the other hand, has managed to create a rich, detailed, and above-all consistent and coherent world in his Human Reach novels. Through several secondary characters he is able to flesh out a much larger and more intricate conflict than would be possible with a one-hero-in-every-conflict style. He has beautifully blended existing Earth cultures into future powers.
On the technology side, Lumpkin describes the systems with enough detail to produce a realistic image in the reader's mind while not bogging down too much. A lack of an "inertial dampener" system make the battles occur after weeks of preliminary movement, adding suspense while staying accurate to the physics of space-travel. The multi-layered weapon and defensives systems make the battles rich and varied.
If these novels have a failing, it is in the somewhat type-cast cultures of the nations, which sometimes verge on stereotypes. The books tend to tread lightly when it comes to the "correct" political views, however. Lumpkin does better when he adds characters from other nations in the second novel and attempts to better flesh-out the murky viewpoints of the conflict. He does make sure to have his characters question the validity and morality of their situations and gives antagonists their own viewpoint and (mostly) coherent reasoning.
I would highly recommend these novels to anyone who enjoys science-fiction.