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Book Review: The Tyrant Strategy: Revenant Man by Jonathan C. Gillespie

I’m not a huge fan of military SF. But I am a fan of post-apocalyptic SF. I’m not a huge fan of augmented-humanity SF. But I am a fan of humans-aren’t-the-most-powerful-people-in-the-universe SF. So when author Jonathan C. Gillespie put out his new novel The Tyrant Strategy: Revenant Man I wasn’t sure if it was going to be my cup of post-apocalyptic, augmented humanity, military-style, humans-aren’t-so-great tea.

That’s an awfully complicated blend, by the way. Not too many people sell it.

The book has a great cover — evocative of SF classics like “Dune”. Excellent work by the designer.

Revenant Man takes place in a world 200 or so years in the future, when a race of aliens called the Nartuni have come to Earth and imposed order where there was none. America has been especially hard-hit at some point in the book’s past, and is very much post-apocalyptic. The Nartuni have trained groups of humans as part of their Serpican Police — elite, augmented soldiers whose job it is to maintain order and put down uprisings down on the planet.

One such Serpican is Reed Barowe. In Greenland, Barowe sees a man who should not exist — Tak Akita, the human ruler who caused great devastation across the planet some years ago. Serpicans are trained to kill Akita and men like him, and Barowe is no exception. But is this man really Tak Akita? Or is he really another man, Ramelan Fujita? Barowe must find out, joining Fujita on a journey to a fallen America.

Several other characters are introduced over the course of the book. There’s Commander-General Douglas, in charge of all Serpicans and human agents, based aboard the space station Treaty One. There’s Daniel, a religious man helping those who have lost limbs in the lawless parts of America by getting them prosthetics. There’s Karmen, ostracized as being a collaborator with Partana’s Governor Moreno even though there’s much more to her story than that. And that’s just to start. Fortunately, through the book, Gillespie keeps the character introductions moving at a slow pace so that a metric ton of exposition isn’t dumped on the reader at any one time.

In any case, once Barowe and Fujita reach America, they make their way to Zone 6, called Partana, and it’s there Barowe begins to see just what Fujita’s trying to accomplish… and he must make a choice: join the man who all his instincts say to kill, or stop him from reaching his ultimate goal.

I made four points in the introduction to this article. Let me expound upon them here:

  1. Military SF: While the book isn’t strictly military SF per se, there’s a lot of technology and police activity readers might recognize from similar post-apocalyptic stories like The Hunger Games or even Dredd. Plus, one of the main characters is a super-soldier, and he has that mentality. It’s not a huge deal, but I had a lot of trouble not thinking of this book as military SF, which I think impacted my enjoyment of it in some ways.
  2. Post-Apocalyptic SF: The West is a mess. Tak Akita destroyed the UK. America is fragmented and under Nartuni control via puppet leaders. Killer combat drones roam the outlying areas. It’s very much a post-apocalyptic future. I appreciated those aspects. I would’ve liked to know more about the Eastern cultures that weren’t so bad-off, but that didn’t fit in with the plot. I imagine we’ll get that in future stories.
  3. Augmented-Humanity SF: This was an area where I saw both pros and cons. Barowe, a Serpican super-soldier, isn’t a caricature in any way. He’s a human being, albeit an augmented one, and while he’s extremely talented and powerful, he’s not a cardboard cut-out and he has opinions of his own. However, it seemed as though every time something was going horribly wrong, Barowe had some sort of augmented ability that allowed him to overcome it just enough to turn the tide. I suppose that’s what a hero’s supposed to do.
  4. Humans Aren’t The Most Powerful People In The Universe SF: I wanted more of this. Much more. We saw a little of the Nartuni in the beginning and a little at the end, but for the most part this book was all about the humans. I want to know more about the Nartuni’s motivations, more about why they’re so invested in humanity, and if they’ve behaved this way with other races in the galaxy. Clearly they’re stronger than us, but that’s all we know.

While it did have its flaws — most notably that we kept getting taken away from Barowe and Fujita to see what was going on elsewhere, and I didn’t care enough about some of the other characters to be interested in what was going on — Revenant Man definitely hits a lot of good SF buttons and the technology is totally believable as an extension of our own (even if the phrase “OLED” is used far too often).

Revenant Man is Gillespie’s first novel; he’s had several short-stories published in the past, and put out two collections. The novel is self-published and available on several popular e-reading platforms.

Personally, this book wasn’t for me — it’s not firmly entrenched enough in one of the subsets of the SF/F/H genres that I like to read — but it kept my interest and I want to know what will happen as the saga continues. I do think I have a pretty good idea of where this series will ultimately end up. I do think it’ll be interesting to get there. And I do think that, if you like military SF, augmented-humanity SF, and post-apocalyptic SF, you’ll be very interested in The Tyrant Strategy.

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Note to Parents: This book contains violence (some of it graphic), mild language, and several scenes of misogynistic behavior (including one of sexual violence). I think a good filmmaker could shoot it as a PG-13 film, but to be on the safe side I’d limit this to mature older teens. Of course, you should use your own best judgment as it relates to your children.

Thanks to the author for providing a review copy.

In the interest of full disclosure: Gillespie and I became friends shortly before the book was released, and I offered to review it. Also, a member of my family was one of the book’s copy-editors.

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