I had an good time with Ruins of the Earth by Christopher Hopper and J.N. Chaney, but it also made me pretty uncomfortable. And not because the book was badly written, because it’s not.
It’s 2027. Patrick “Wic” Finnegan is a Master Gunnery Sergeant in the US Army, and about to retire. After a few decades spent fighting enemies of the US, he can finally retire to a cabin away from everything. But before his retirement, he does a final mission in Antarctica for his old friend Aaron.
Aaron has uncovered a strange alien ring buried beneath the ice. It has been there since the time of cavemen. Aaron has learned it’s a portal to somewhere else — and yes, that’s like Stargate, Wic even remarks on that. They open the gate and *gasp* robots march out. They kidnap one of the scientists and start shooting. Wic manages to fight back and close the gate, but he is one of only two soldiers to survive the encounter. He tells his superiors to blow up the ring, then calls it quits and retires.
A few months later, while Wic is in his cabin watching TV, an EMP blast knocks out all the power in his vicinity and a blue energy dome appears on the horizon, covering the city of New York. Patrick grabs his guns and reluctantly goes to investigate. Did they open the ring again?
Ruins of the Earth is what is called ‘military science fiction’. In this case near-future military science fiction. This means the writers go into lots of details about the different weapons and tactics employed by the main character Wic.
Because of the erupting chaos of an alien invasion, Wic finds himself joining a group of rag-tag soldiers from all branches of the military. This gives the writers the freedom to talk about navy seals, the airforce, and go all in on different weapons and ordinance.
Of course, no military science fiction is complete without alien weaponry, so alien AI-powered guns and flying gunships are added to the mix. Now, I’m personally not that hung up on guns, but a few decades of playing video games, playing role-playing games, and reading novels, I have a basic appreciation for weaponry. And it does look cool when the heroes grabs some big machine guns and tactically shoot the crap out of the aliens — Heck, I loved Stargate.
The writing is also okay. Ruins of the Earth reads like a thriller, and all the different characters add good flavor. All in all, it was a fun read. But, it has its flaws.
The Jar Jar of Guns
Remember how we all loved Jar Jar Binks?
The problem with comic side-kicks is that they have to walk a fine line between being funny, and being annoying. On top of that, because of their antics, it’s hard to give them a proper role in the story beside being the throw-away comic relief. And that’s the main problem with Jar Jar Binks: He adds nothing to the Phantom Menace, is in no way a part of the climax, and doesn’t learn anything. He’s the annoying friend who always comes to parties to drink all your booze, but won’t share anything about their life and never organizes something themselves.
Ruins of the Earth has its own Jar Jar. Early in the story, Wic runs into an alien gun with its own Artificial Intelligence. The gun is the comic relief. After Wic takes possession, the gun acquires a personality to make it easier to interact with Wic. He plucks that from the Internet, and supposedly models himself on John Cleese. This is a pretty ballsy move from the writers. It places the burden on them to pay worthy tribute to a famous comedian. Spoiler: they don’t clear that bar.
The talking gun sucks. He is usually not funny, and he drains the momentum out of many scenes with pointless asides and ‘funny’ misunderstandings. Unlike Jar Jar, the gun AI does have one redeeming virtue. He has somewhat of a character arc.
What doesn’t help is that the main character Wic constantly adds voice-overs in his head about the gun’s jokes. There is no reason why a soldier fighting for the survival of mankind would joke around with an inane AI in a gun. Except — as Wic explains ad nauseam — he wanted to gain the thing’s trust, and build rapport with his teams. So every joke is followed by such an aside, explaining why he allows it, or joins in. This acts like the stilted version of explaining a joke and makes their relationship feel completely transactional. It is truly horrible to behold.
However, all of this is not what disturbed me about the story. What made me very uncomfortable is that if you replace ‘aliens’ in this story by ‘deep state’ it would be a manual for the kind of reasoning that led US right-wingers to attempt to overthrow the US government.
You see, Ruins of the Earth paints both scientists, politics, and higher ranking military officers as idiots. The soldier on the ground — Wic — knows what is right in the world, but is constantly held back by self-serving politicians and egghead scientists. Wic’s superiors are power-hungry enough to ignore his warnings and open the ring after Wic wanted to blow it up. The scientists throw all caution to the wind and assume that the other side of the ring will be friendly cuddly aliens. And no government, scientist, or military is able to save the world. Except Wic. The story constantly emphasis how great it is to be a soldier, and how soldiers should stand by each other, and that scientists and politicians cannot be trusted. You should fight and die for your own beliefs, and ignore all those ‘pencil pushers’ which see the world in shades of grey.
The bad guys are aliens slavers, and they are evil beings who like to eat or torture humans they can’t sell. So, all moral ambiguity can go out the window. Wic is fighting the battle to end all battles, and he is the only one who can. Soldiers are a different breed of people, not like the common people they defend. And if those common people become collateral damage that will weigh heavily on the conscience of those great soldiers, but they will gladly make that sacrifice to save the world because that is their job.
The whole story reads as a commercial to join the US military or an alt-right group, or both. This might not be intentional. The tropes of military science fiction lean heavily on the ‘military’, and that is only a stone throw from fascism.
Let me be clear: I don’t think this book is intentionally fascist. It’s not the Sword of Truth. It has some hang-ups about women, and a lot of locker-room border-line sexist jokes, but it’s not Mein Kampf. It tells a story, not unlike Stargate, and it uses evil aliens as the bad guys, which isn’t wrong. However, as I explained, the underlying message disturbs me.
Now, I would like to add, I don’t like censorship. Heck, I wrote a blog post about not keeping hard truths from your child. I would even say, if you like military science fiction, you will enjoy this book. But like many things, it requires context. If you read this story, you should be well aware that the real world is never as black and white as this story implies.
In the real world a group of vigilante soldiers running around and deciding for themselves who the enemy is and how to defeat them is dangerous. It’s how dictatorships are born. So context is king. If you go into this book with a firm grasp of how subverting democracy is where the Third Reich started and how we got to Russia invading Ukraine, then you’ll probably be fine. If you’re in an echo chamber where Biden never won the elections, Brexit was a good idea, or Covid was created by the elite, then you should not twist your mind further with this book.
So, yeah, I had fun reading Ruins of the Earth, despite it’s terrible Jar Jar gun. But it also disturbed me.