Book: A Hymn Before Battle by John Ringo

Entertaining military science-fiction novel reminiscent of an earlier era in that genre

John Ringo
A Hymn Before Battle
Baen, 2001
ISBN: 0-671-31841-1
ISBN-13: 978-0-671-31841-3
467 pages

In the universe of John Ringo's novel A Hymn Before Battle, the habitable planets near Earth are all populated by a federation of peaceful aliens. It seems that warlike species wiped themselves out before inventing interplanetary travel. That worked just fine for them a hundred thousand years or so. But then the Posleen, a space-faring race that's not peaceful, attacked them and has been invading their planets for about two hundred years.

As the book begins, Michael O'Neal is a programmer with a 1990s-era web design firm. He's ex-military and he gets a call from his old boss, General Jack Horner, who asks Mike to visit him at Fort MacPherson. General Horner suggests that it's not really a request. Mike arrives and finds that there's going to be a huge mobilization. The federation had been aware of humans for some time and, after losing many planets to the Posleen, have decided to see if equipping the warlike humans with some advanced technology and sending them against the Posleen will help. Mike begins by helping to design powered combat armor which will be given to a small number of human soldiers and then he deploys with them as a technical representative. They're going to the planet Diess, which is already under attack.

There are a couple of other sub-plots as well and the book is the first in a (so far) four-book series.

The book is a thoroughly entertaining read. Or at least it will be for people who enjoy military science-fiction at all. The most remarkable thing about the book is that it reads like military science-fiction of an earlier era. It reads like a story written by one of those authors of military science-fiction who wrote with the memory of the second world war reasonably fresh in their minds. Of course, the scope of the mobilization is reminiscent of that war. And one plot device is also reminiscent of older military science-fiction. The good ideas come from a junior officer and their value is recognized by grandfatherly generals. But at critical junctures moderately senior officers ignore them until circumstances give the young man a free hand. There's no need to take the Oedipal aspect of that too seriously. If everything went smoothly there wouldn't be much of a story. But that's the sort of uncomplicated conflict that I associate with science fiction of the 1960s and 1970s.

I have previously said of military thrillers by John Ringo (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) that they were somewhat improbable even by the rather relaxed standards of the genre, but they were enough fun that I didn't mind. The same can be said of this book. Obviously I must not mind very much since I keep reading Mr Ringo's novels.

Posted: Sat - January 2, 2010 at 06:58   Main   Category: