It wasn’t too long ago that I read and reviewed Weston Ochse’s Grunt Life in which we were introduced to Benjamin Mason, a soldier and veteran of the war in Afghanistan who suffers from PTSD and was plucked off of a bridge in Los Angeles by a representative of OMBRA, a company that is putting together a highly trained army of former soldiers to fight the Cray, an alien race that not very much was known about, except that they were very deadly.
Grunt Traitor picks up not long after the events of the previous novel and, according to the author, many have told him it is better than the first.
After returning from Africa and being dubbed the “Hero of the Mound,” there are some radical changes taking place, chiefly in the climate of the planet and in the expansion of the Cray; the average temperature has risen along with sea levels, and it seems that the Cray have unleashed a new weapon to go along with their flying, and ground based insectoids, as well as their constant electromagnetic pulses rendering all but the most hardened devices working in the vicinity of mounds the Cray dwell in.
Benjamin Mason, a newly minted lieutenant in OMBRA’s army is sent into L.A. along with Dupree, a scientist, to investigate a new threat from the Cray in the form of a black vine that releases spores into the air. When animal life comes into contact with these spores, they attack anyone and anything that has not been similarly infected, thus spreading the disease. While trying to protect Dupree during a battle, Mason himself is infected and thinks he might die soon, but manages to take samples back to his OMBRA base for study and analysis.
The scientists and doctors actually find a cure, but the spores leave Mason changed. It is the changes that makes him the ideal man to lead a team back into L.A. to destroy one of the mounds with only a slim margin of time to escape. But even though there is a chance for more victories against the Cray, there are many who merely try to survive, some who are overly ambitious, and others who sincerely believe that there is little hope for the survival of humankind on this planet. Perhaps a victory by Mason may inspire hope around the world and change the course of the future, but Mason must be willing to pay the price for a successful mission and will have to take the risk of being labeled a traitor instead of hero.
Like the first novel in the series, Grunt Life, the story mostly follows Mason as he faces many difficulties in trying to complete his assigned missions. Mason is a very compelling character that one can very much care about. He is a complicated man who is a good leader and a good soldier, but he has a strong sense of right and wrong and is not afraid to stand up to his superiors and fellow soldiers to do what is right. Mason also has to make many difficult choices in this story which leads to the death of friends and foes that he would rather not kill, but the circumstances force him to make those hard decisions. While he doesn’t hesitate to do what is necessary, he does pay a price for very life he is forced to take, and is often deeply affected by what he has to do, even to the point of being in danger of losing his own life. Mason is a character that one can really care about.
Oh but there are also characters in this story that a reader will come to loathe and despise as they follow their own sinister agendas. One such character is “Mr. Pink,” the commander of the OMBRA army that Mason serves with. In Grunt Life, Mason falls deeply in love with a fellow grunt, Michelle, who is changed into a kind of human communications device because she is able to tap into the communications of the enemy. After Mason is cured from the spores, he finds that he is able to communicate with Michelle and he makes it his personal mission to save her from being used by Pink and other scientists. When Mason locates her, he unfortunately finds that the only way he can rescue her is to end her life as Pink and the scientists treat her more as a machine than a human being.
One of my favorite parts of this story is when we learn more about the Cray. It would appear that the beings that have invaded the Earth are not actually the master species, however they are more like drones sent by a more advanced race to secure the resources of the planet to be used in a much larger conflict taking place in another part of the galaxy; humans are merely in the way and the Cray’s mission is to get people out of the way so the resources can be mined and taken back for the larger war effort.
I highly recommend this book, as well as the first book in the series as some outstanding examples of military sci-fi that will appeal to fans of this particular branch of the genre in numerous ways. Being a veteran of the military himself, Ochse does an amazing job of describing weapons, devices, and people, but he does it in terms that anyone can understand. I think that fellow vets will be able to relate very well to the characters and situations presented.
I would also warn those that are not so inclined to reading intense descriptions of military operations and those that may not be well able to handle graphic descriptions of death, injury, and destruction on a large scale, this story is laced with many such instances and may not be a good fit for the casual reader.
Well, there it is…