Grunt Life by Weston Ochse
This is another one of those books that was recommended by David Gerrold, along with one I reviewed earlier on this blog, Saturn Run.
Grunt Life is the story of Benjamin Mason, a soldier in Los Angeles on leave from the war in Afghanistan. He is also suffering from PTSD and the story opens with Mason standing on a bridge contemplating jumping off. Before he can jump and end what has become a seemingly intolerable existence, he is approached by a mysterious someone who tells Mason that he is already dead; that he had died in a house fire, and that he is needed for another conflict. Mason calls the man recruiting him “Mr. Pink.”
Mr. Pink is offering Mason a chance to join another army, a far better equipped one than he is currently in, and the stakes may very well mean that he will be helping to save the human race from an alien species called the Cray. There isn’t a great deal known about the Cray other than they have the ability to control minds to the extent that they can manipulate people into doing violent acts, particularly school shootings. They also use humans as antennae to transmit signals to other Cray that are apparently enroute to earth to stage an invasion, although the purpose for the impending invasion is not known.
The entire army is being put together by a corporation, since Governments are not willing to acknowledge that there is a threat, and even if they did, all the government backed militaries are not equipped to fight the aliens. Mr. Pink is a representative of the corporation known as Ombra Andre his entire army is made up for soldiers that have contemplated or attempted suicide after fighting in wars.
Once their very unusual training is completed, the squad heads to Mt. Kilimanjaro to fight at one of the major locations that the Cray have set up bases. Several plans and attacks are made with limited results, but Mason and his squad fight on.
This is a well written story that is quite compelling on many levels. First and foremost, the author explores just how many returning vets suffer effects of fighting in war. Then there are the interactions between the people involved in the story. The characters are well developed with background enough to make the reader become invested in them. Mason himself has been through a lot, enough for him to attempt to take his own life because of what he has seen and what he sees as his future. When he is given a new direction by Ombra, he fights and becomes a hero, and example for the other soldiers that inspires them.
I should caution you though, if you are considering reading this story, there are many graphic scenes of violence against both humans and Cray. The descriptions are very detailed and could be disturbing to the unwary reader.
For me, the most appealing aspect of this book is that the characters were real to me. They were just regular people with extraordinary problems in an extraordinary situation.
Well, there it is…