Monday, March 12, 2012
Bastard Reaction: Control Point by Myke Cole
A few months ago author Mark Lawrence asked in the SFFWorld forums, "What was the last fantasy book that mattered to you?" A question that has stayed with me since, as I haven't found an easy answer for it. Then came the recently released debut by Myke Cole, Control Point first of the Shadow Ops series, and the elusive question was answered.
Some humans have started to manifest supernatural abilities, including some deemed dangerous to society. Oscar Britton is an army officer tasked, along with his unit, to support members of the Supernatural Operation Corps as they go after a couple of kids that have been manifesting some of the aforementioned dangerous abilities. He is confronted with the harsh reality of what it means to be an individual with these sorts of abilities, many of them who are incapable of controlling them, and the inevitability of being hunted down because of it. When Oscar himself starts to manifest one of the prohibited abilities he decides to run instead of handing himself to the mercy of the law. What follows is a series of events which will force Oscar to challenge the core of his beliefs as he experiences a world beyond what he has ever imagined.
Control Point is written in third person limited following the protagonist Oscar Britton. I'm having a bit of a tough time on how to classify the book specifically, though the initial impression of the novel would lead you to believe it to be an Urban Fantasy. I think it would be a mistake to do so as I think the best way to describe it would be as a Modern Military Fantasy which indeed contains some elements found in Urban Fantasy alongside Sci-Fi and High Fantasy. The closest I can think of is E.E. Knight's Vampire Earth series, though that one takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting.
Needless to say that I very much enjoyed the novel, but certainly there were a few things that intruded into that enjoyment, though overall quite minor. First, the initial portion of the story failed to grab me as I hoped. It does have a good action sequence, but I wasn't identifying with the main character and his personal struggles. Interestingly enough, it's these struggles that become the biggest strength later on. Another was that even though the action sequences were exciting, I found some portions of it hard to follow as I was having a bit of trouble with some of the depiction of the abilities and who was performing what. This was mainly true in the first action sequence and in the final one. First one because we just got introduced into this world, and the final one because it really was a complex battle with many characters involved. Lastly, in a few occasions from one paragraph to another there were abrupt scene changes which could have used better transitions, particularly true when they occurred right after characters were interacting.
That said, Control Point is quite an awesome read. Good balance between the action and the drama which keeps the book moving along even during the slow portions. The military portions, which is most of it, has a very authentic feel, even if some liberties have been taken to include the fantastical. I know some will be concerned about the use of acronyms and the military jargon, but even though they are indeed abundant, in my opinion Cole made a good effort to make it clear to the reader without sacrificing the pace with unnecessary explanations. Book also includes a glossary which helps immensely.
It's easy to say that Control Point was just a heck of a fun ride, with lots of explosions and action. So I'll go ahead and say it. Aside from what I depicted above, loved some of the action sequences, particularly ones that included tactical coordination.
Oscar Britton is not a character that really stands out, and early on I wasn't identifying with him. He can be damn frustrating at times. Even so, this plays to what I consider the biggest strength of the book, and what has me recommending it whenever I can. After I was done with Control Point, I closed my eyes and all I could see was some sort of cage deathmatch with Oscar Britton right in the middle of a free-for-all of ideas and themes we encountered throughout; all of them inflicting damage to Britton's core values and convictions. Even some that should have been allies were working against each other. Questions of duty, following command, humanism, racism, inhuman scientific research, experimentation, friendship, bureaucracy, red tape, discrimination, abuse, self-importance, self-fulfilling prophesies, best interest of, morality, slavery, ethics, self identity, betrayal, treason, sacrifice, manipulation, brainwashing, blackmail, power, loss of innocence, trust, torture, peer pressure, bullying, genocide, self-preservation, doing what's right, what's the right thing to do, among various others all pressed upon our main character in tough and morally complex situations.
Britton was told to defend himself against the big angry lion in a setting resembling what Lord of the Flies could have "matured" into with access to vast resources, technology, and magical powers. It's really a story of Oscar constantly redefining not only himself, but how he perceives the world and his role and duty in it, and doing some ass kicking in the process. Well, when he wasn't getting his kicked.
Through all of Oscar's dilemmas, it's the idea that these problems are not merely something foreign to everyone or exclusive to military people what I liked the most. Also, the idea that sometimes one's life is not the greatest sacrifice one makes when one joins a war, but that at times one has to sacrifice core values and beliefs to do what's right, or for the greater good, or for the benefit of someone else; sometimes simply in the name of duty. I think anyone who has cared for someone can understand these sacrifices when one does them for their benefit, even if in a smaller scale.
Once again, I find it inevitable to bring up E.E. Knight's Vampire Earth series as many of the same struggles it's main character, David Valentine, faces mirror those of Oscar. Completely different books and characters, but for those looking into military fiction with a combination of sci-fi and fantasy, then these two are well worth the read.
Those struggles of character aside, the world which has been created is quite awesome and full of potential. We've but experienced a small sample of it, as the core of the action is rather contained, but the glimpses we've seen out there and its possibilities are things we can look forward to with some enthusiasm. Don't know what the focus of the following novels will be, and how it'll affect the scope of the perceived setting, but certainly curious.
Peter V. Brett says, "Black Hawk Down meets The X-Men...military fantasy like you've never seen it before." Can't come up with anything better than that. True to his word, that's precisely what you found here, with the caveat that Control Point does distinguish itself from them. As such, it's one novel that I recommend just about anyone to try, and a one that comic book readers would not want to miss; great world with engaging personal conflict amongst a fantastical military setting, with an authentic feel. Control Point is a very strong debut for Myke Cole, and can't wait to read more of the Shadow Ops series.
Buy Control Point from The Book Depository.
Please make sure to visit Myke Cole's website for more information about the series and his blog content.