Review: "The Dark Wing"

An alien race, following their religious doctrines, shatter their latest peace treaty with the Sol Empire by launching an unprovoked attack against a deep space outpost. This time, however, the war between humans and aliens takes on a far more sinister overtone as the admiral of the Imperial Fleet proclaims himself "The Bringer of The Apocolypse" or The Dark Wing, a Military SF epic from Walter H. Hunt and Tor Books.

Rating: 4 out of 5

A few hundred years from now, Earth will have expanded its reaches into outer space. The species known as man will be unified on Earth under a Solar Empire, but not an "evil" empire as you would see in Star Trek's "Mirror, Mirror" universe or the kind Senator Palatine is currently trying to erect. No, this is a "kinder, gentler" empire, one that reaches further and further into the galaxy via heavy-duty starships possessing the ability to "jump" between gravity wells. Sounds like a brave, new world, huh?

Actually, it's Walter Hunt's world, and in The Dark Wing Hunt paints a future that is not so different from our present.

The Dark Wing centers around the crew of the IMS Lancaster, commanded by Commodore Sergei Torrijos. They are just one of many ships heading into a war with a race called The Zor. (If you want to take a look at The Zor, click here as Hunt features inspired artwork on his website!) This has become something of a "routine" for the Sol Empire as The Zor keep the peace for a few decades and then break their own treaties. The Zor attack. The humans defeat them. The humans extend a treaty to the Zor. The Zor accept. All is quiet on the Interstellar Front. The Zor attack. Rinse. Repeat.

This ambush on Pergamum Base (located within Imperial boundaries) was unlike other attacks in the past. It was clear the Zor had spent the interim between the close of the last war and this surprise assault preparing for a final war that would effectively and efficiently wipe out the human race. The emperor was further dismayed to find out that a majority of his fleet was either heavily damaged or destoryed. This war was only into its first battle, and the outcome was looking bleak for the Sol Empire.

Enter Commodore Torrijos and the Lancaster, appointed as the flagship of Admiral Ivan Marais, or Lord Marias if you wanted to call him by his aristocratic title. While you would think Sergei would be honored by the appointment of flagship to the Imperial Navy, he's only dreading what is to come. Admiral Marais is not what you would call "seasoned by combat". He's more of an "armchair tactician" as he's the author behind a book on how to defeat the Zor. This Complete Idiot's Guide to Beating Aliens reached the Emperor's hands. A royal decree later, Marais is given command under General Orders 6 of the Imperial Navy to call the shots (literally) in offensives against the Zor.

Sergei's bad feelings only go from bad to worse when Marais calls a meeting with all of his ship captains and reviews with them their battle plans. The good news: the strategy and tactics appear sound, if not ingenious. The bad news: the target isn't military. It's civilian.

Walter Hunt's The Dark Wing came out in December 2001; but in light of recent events in Iraq, you would think he started writing it after our troops hit sand. With the rise of terrorism in our post 9-11 world, Hunt's story reads as a parallell to Islamic Militants and the "Infidels to Allah". In the Zor religion, the humans are regarded as an insult to their god, and therefore must be removed from the grand scheme of the universe. Otherwise, the Zor would not be allowed to transcend into paradise. Sound hauntingly familiar? Marais, on achieving this understanding of zor theology, now realizes the only way to defeat the zor is to not fight like a human, but as a zor. In a sense, the humans must "fight on their terms" which includes acts of terror. As I read this book, a thought in the back of my mind popped up: what would happen if someone stationed in Iraq got a hold of The Dark Wing? Would he or she discover an inspiration for Absolute Victory (the title of Marais' book) in this SF adventure? There were certain pages of Hunt's future that came across as direct analogies of the current US occupation of Iraq...and this was written over two years before.

But this isn't the prophecies of Nostradamus. The Dark Wing is SF. Military SF. HARD Military SF, and this was my biggest hang up. There were a few too many pages spent on gravity wells, deflector shields, and other scientific possibilities that made me wonder when my novel morphed into a quantum physics textbook. And while much of the action focuses around Marais and Torrijos, I couldn't help but get lost in Dark Wing's cast of thousands, human and zor. At some points, I felt as if I needed a roster to see who was at bat and which team they were playing for, especially in the scenes involving the Zor. And the "pivotal moment" of Dark Wing's climax fell a little flat as its dialogue sounded less "Military SF" and more like "Military Melodrama". I also couldn't help but feel a little confused by some of the political/court intrigue. Sure, we need something to lead into the sequel, but I felt that there was no build-up, resolution, or logical development to this aspect of the book.

Now that I've expressed my issues, allow me to enthusiastically recommend The Dark Wing. Its cast, the ones you get to know such as Marais, Torrijos, Marc Hudson, Ted McMasters, and Marine Chris Boyd (a character I hope pops up in later volumes), are characters you enjoy getting to know, especially near the book's end when many of them face their futures. The book is at its best when focusing on them, their decisions, and their courses taken in this intergalactic war. I have no doubt Walter Hunt will be delivering more solid reads in the future as The Dark Wing has already released its sequel The Dark Path and has two more volumes slated for future release.

So before Hunt jumps his imperial cruiser so far ahead that you may find him hard to catch up with, take a look at The Dark Wing.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Dark Wing by Walter H. Hunt
Published by: Tor; December, 2001 (hardcover); November, 2002 (paperback)
ISBN: 0765340690
Genre: Military Science Fiction
Author's Webpage: www.walterhunt.com