Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Veteran Veteran
by Gavin Smith

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: John Toon

The titular veteran is Jakob Douglas, a Scottish cyborg who gave decades of his life and a large proportion of his original body to humanity's total war against Them, and who plans to spend his remaining years drunk and bombed out in a VR cubicle. He's called out of retirement by his bastard CO when an alien craft crashes just outside Dundee, sparking fears of infiltration by Them. Douglas soon discovers that he's not the first veteran to be called on for such a mission, and the more he discovers about exactly what They are and what Their plans are - and what his own superiors' plans are - the more trouble he finds himself in.

Readers might imagine that Douglas will be the standard-issue grizzled ex-soldier who's seen it all, and that his misadventures - in line with the back cover comparison with Richard Morgan - will be one long stream of hardware specifications, minutely detailed fight scenes and macho bullshit. Well, there's a bit of that, certainly, but there's more to it than just that. It's clear to the other characters, and to the reader, and eventually to Douglas himself that he's a martyr to his own self-pity. When his narrative enters the realms of macho BS, Douglas acknowledges it and seems somewhat embarrassed by it - he's too world-weary to be a total bastard. Admittedly the fight scenes are lovingly detailed and the hardware is described ad nauseum.

The initial stages of the story are a bit contrived - Douglas wonders why on earth he so readily does what he does once things start to go wrong, and so will you. But once the story gets properly going, convenience is cast aside. The gathered protagonists argue over their actions convincingly and at length from their various standpoints, and the consequences of their choices stick - barring a certain amount of reconstructive surgery, that is. Characters who go toe-to-toe with better armed opponents get the shit kicked out of them; characters who are irradiated spend the rest of the book dying from radiation sickness. The ending is carefully worked towards and feels suitably hard-won. Throughout, Gavin Smith maintains a careful balance of humour, grimness and self-awareness that keeps the book from becoming boring. A promising debut novel.

SFFANZ is a non-profit organisation and registered charity
designed to bring together fans of the fantastic in New Zealand

Contact us by email at: