I originally bought the book as an impulse buy from Audible because they kept taunting me with a deal on certain books. This was one of those books whose description was written in a way to capture the reader's attention while still managing to be vaguely suspicious. I wasn't sure if I liked the cover (recovering cover snob that I am), but I decided to give this a try, even if my brain did try to tell me that this was probably going to be Space Rambo. However, since this was my science fiction month and I wanted to round out my selection and adding to the fact that the reviews were mostly favorable, I decided to give it a chance. Surprisingly, it was an interesting listen.
Twenty three year old Jazen Parker agrees to go to a planet known colloquially as "Dead End" with a rich tycoon to hunt one of the deadliest animals in the universe. The payout from this job will help Parker to get a new identity and start his life anew without the threat of the former mercenary group he worked for since he was a teen or the bounty hunters who want to take him back to his home planet to answer for his "crime." He was born illegally on his home planet, and even though that wasn't his fault, he can still be punished for his parents' crime.
It's really hard to talk about this book without spoiling most of it. You think you're going into the book just getting a straightforward sci-fi military story with lots of action, and you do get that. However, you also get a well crafted sci-fi story that won't allow itself to be shoehorned into just another shoot-em-up story. This story explores human nature and the similarities and differences that could exist between two intelligent races by giving us chapters from the alien's point of view. He finds much of human behavior complex and needless. His own race is at an apex where they are absolutely on top of the food chain on their home planet and don't need many of the behaviors that humans possess. The longer he travels with his human companions the more he learns about things such as empathy and sacrifice, notions he doesn't have in his own culture because individuals in his race live solitary lives. They're firm believers in allowing an individual to meet his destiny alone.
We also learn more about this other race in the process. We learn about their loose society structure and how they've managed to thwart genocide by humans by pretending to be dumb creatures. As stated in the book: "Overall the human species tolerated dangers in nature. What they did not tolerate were rivals." Even though they know they are more intelligent and capable than humans. Humans possess knowledge and skills that make them very dangerous, especially to a territorial, solitary species like his where teamwork is downright disrespectful because it means encroaching on each other’s boundaries. However solitary they are, there is a thread of unity between them, a way they exchange knowledge, history, and ideas among themselves. They're stubborn about their worldview being the only view and humans are obviously delusional in their opinion until circumstances causes one of them to embark on a pivotal journey.
Humans in this book have conquered most of the known galaxy, becoming so numerous on some planets that it's a crime to reproduce without consent. (And I don't really understand why Parkers parent traveled to a planet where it's a criminal offense to have Parker, but maybe they had no other choice.) It's even mentioned that they have destroyed other intelligent species after being given resources they needed and have turned back to warring against each other, but with more dire consequences (such as slavery, even though it's supposedly humane, is a fate for the conquered). Humans are detached from earth, most having never seen earth and know little of its history.
Humans not knowing about their history, even if they've never laid eyes on earth, pains me. Parker will sometimes gripe about how trueborns think earth is the cultural apex of the universe and how names like George Washington mean nothing to him. While I can understand the sentiment, there are no other cultures present since it seems that humans have wiped out any other intelligent species, and the culture Parker complains about is the same culture who opened up the universe to humans. Just as Parker’s home world should be just as important to trueborns because it the collective history of humanity. Why wouldn't the history of earth and humans be some kind of required reading? I'm over thinking this thing.
I didn't know if I was going to enjoy the narrator at first, but he did very well and I think his characterization of Parker is what really stood out to me. He really made him feel distinct and alive for me. He managed to capture the youth and battle weary aspects of Parker's personality. Parker is young and naive about many things outside of battle like women, but he's seen so much war and death as a legionnaire. And MacCleod Andrews did a great job of capturing that.
This was an excellent story. There were a few parts that seemed kind of mystifying (Parker's parents' decision on where to have him) and parts that seemed to be quickly cobbled to the story as it neared its end. However, Buettner is knowledgeable about military and made it work in a way that isn't overwhelming for readers. He also knows how to make characters engaging, and I thought more than once he'd probably be a great writer for the Mass Effect series. I'll be moving on to book two in this series soon, hopeful that some mysteries remaining are solved.