Live Free or Die
While I am a great John Ringo fan, I have to admit that his previous novel – Eye of the Storm – left me feeling rather cold. It wasn't a bad story, IMHO, but it wasn't the one I expected. Live Free or Die (the state motto of New Hampshire) is far more satisfactory, although it represents the opening of yet another series. (Don’t worry; it reads fairly well on its own.) The story stands completely separate from anything else.
In the near future (the US President is clearly BO, so very near future) a mysterious alien race opens an interstellar gate in humanity’s solar system. The first group of traders (the Glatun) to arrive at Earth find little to interest them and Earth remains a backwater until a much nastier race (the Horvath) arrive and start extorting tribute at gunpoint. The hero of the story – Tyler Vernon – discovers, more or less by accident, something Earth has that is actually of value to the Glatun. Unluckily for Earth, the Horvath demand that Earth hand over all the maple syrup – or else. The President, under threat of bombardment, sends in the troops. What follows is a nasty stand-off that is finally resolved by intervention from the Glatun. The remainder of the story – don’t worry, it doesn’t end there – tracks Vernon’s desperate program to build an Earth Defence Force and eventually force the Horvath out of Earth’s solar system.
I won’t spoil the rest of it for you, but there are some genuinely funny moments running through the story. There are also a lot of odd points made more for political point-scoring than anything else. The Glatun come across as completely stupid – apart from a handful of lucky visionaries – and are basically a culture in complete decline, running the risk of destruction at the hands of barbarians they built up themselves. The human race apparently doesn’t rate help; the Horvath do (did) because the Horvath have successfully convinced public opinion that they’re the good guys. (Or at least needy.) There’s nothing particularly subtle about his points and while I cannot disagree with many of them, they had an annoying tendency to grate.
The President comes across as more of a sympathetic figure than Ringo (I suspect) intended. He honestly has no choice, but to give the Horvath what they want – or see American cities burn. (And he makes a good show of it.) Vernon’s frank opinion of him may be accurate, but he was placed in an impossible position. I don’t think that I would have done anything different. Other politics are just as weird. A company makes a suicidal decision to try to exploit Vernon for their own ends. The alien politics are an odd mix of present-day Europe and Europe in 1936, during the Ethiopian Crisis.
But the underlying theme of the novel is simple enough. One man can make a difference. History shows us plenty of cases where a great man (good or bad) has taken on the world and changed it, for better or worse. Tyler Vernon is such a man…
I do have one quibble, apart from the politics. The space combat scenes are too short.