Veteran is a take on near-future military science fiction, where the world has been at war with Them for decades. Our "hero", Jakob Douglas, is the veteran of the title, an ex-soldier who spends his days trying to find oblivion through drink and drugs. One day he is told that a Them infiltrator has crashed to earth and must be retrieved. He is reactivated into service - but events do not proceed as planned. He finds himself on the run with a teenage prostitute, realising that everything he has been told about Them has been incorrect. His journey takes him to New York, as he and Morag pick up allies and enemies, and he attempts to bring peace between Them and Us.
This is a good book. It is entertaining and written very well, considering it is Smith's first novel. There are some flaws, which I shall detail, but on the whole I enjoyed it thoroughly.
The main strength of Veteran is the characters, and the relationship between Jakob and Morag. It is, at best, an uncomfortable relationship considering the relative ages of the characters and the fact Morag starts the novel as a whore, but Smith writes it well and introduces some discussion on morality to proceedings. Jakob himself is a dark and grim protagonist, with flashes of brutal humour, and carries the plot very well.
I've seen some remarks on the fact that the philosophical ramifications of the plot sit uneasily alongside the action sequences - but I actually enjoyed these. Although they were presented slightly clumsily at times, I thought they lifted the novel beyond just a shoot-'em-up presentation of war.
My main complaint comes from the treatment of women. Considering we've drifted into near future, it feels like a backward step to have the main female character be a prostitute. We're in an enlightened age right now, where women share the duties of being in the armed forces, and have lofty positions in industry and government - why would all that have changed thanks to an ongoing war with Them? I felt Smith missed a trick here, where he could have presented women in the same enlightened fashion.
I did really like Them though - they were suitably alien, with little progression made my humanity in sixty years with communicating with them and trying to understand them. The name of Them is inspired, in fact, and helps to push the idea that they are something Other.
Altogether, Gavin Smith has written an explosive debut, with memorable characters and breakneck pace. His prose is sleek and smooth, and his action set pieces are clean and fluid. Despite minor flaws, this is an accomplished start to Smith's writing career and I look forward to reading more.
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