A stand-alone short science fiction novel.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Page count: 192 including several appendixes and glossaries

The book is set between 5025 and 5040, covering many years of the main character’s life, spent mostly in warfare.

The story starts on the year 5025 when humankind has spread to many planets and many galaxies. The story is set in a different planet, Neraka, which is pretty hostile place to live. The humans have to wear breathers and full bodysuit, which has been changed into armor, called “kits” in order to stay alive. On this planet, feudal lords control the machinery and therefore the population. They use various mind control technologies on the thralls, who are the lowest class workers on the planets (their minds are wiped to make them compliant), and even on their wives to make them loyal to their husbands. The lords also use combat mechs.

Charlie Cooper is a Fredder. He’s part of a community which is fiercely independent from any feudal lords and refuses to have their minds altered. He’s 18 and about to me married to his sweetheart Bernisse. After they exchange their vows, Charlie leaves for the traditional walk but during it he notices that a heavily armed mechs are advancing on his village. He gives warning but lord Domany tries to blackmail and threaten the village into giving him food and repairs. Charlie is close to his mech and manages to ambush the lord. However, the villagers find out that the lord is badly wounded and give him aid. This is something of a mistake, because another, more powerful lord is after Domany. It turns out that Domany is very much down on his luck: he’s wounded and has only a couple of mechs to help him. However, the Fredders don’t want to ruled by the conquering lord, so they agree to help Domany.

In the middle of battle, Charlie’s new wife Benisse is abducted by the attacking lord’s henchmen. Charlie is wounded and knows that he has no way of rescuing Benisse. But Charlie finds himself in the land of the Sulphines, almost mythological aliens whom nobody has seen in hundreds of years. They are supposed to be sulfur-based and retreated after humans settled on Neraka. However, now their Queen confronts Charlie and gives him a choice: to die or to use the helm of Brin. The helm has the memories of a thousand years of warfare but using it would be a Fredder’s greatest nightmare; losing his mind to the personalities and memories in the helm. Charlie hesitates but he knows it’s the only way to save his wife, even though he will be dead to her.

At the start of the book, Charlie is a pretty simple farm boy. He knows the dangers of the land he lives in and his culture and behaves accordingly. For example, he’s never seen Benisse without her breather until the wedding ceremony. He’s also somewhat reckless when he defends his town but he knows what he can do and takes calculated risks. When he puts on the helmet, he doesn’t feel any difference, but it’s very clear to the reader: his narrative voice changes from a (readable) brogue to more standard English. Later he even gets a British accent. He also becomes more ruthless and struggles to keep his initially good character.

The book has a lot of fighting, especially during the latter half. However, I was more interested in the various cultures. Except for the Fredders, they all use technology to alter memories or personalities. However, they use it somewhat differently. Neraka’s lords use it to keep other people in line but we find out that this a rather old-fashioned way of using the tech. The lords also have duels between single warriors and their armored mech rather than wars, which is very medieval.

The central themes of the book are what is real and what is not, and whom can you trust. When other people can change your memories, your emotions, your thoughts, what can be real?