Sound Off in the Forum

All reviews and site design © by Thomas M. Wagner. SF logo by Charles Hurst. All rights reserved. Book cover artwork is copyrighted by its respective artist and/or publisher.


Book cover art by Christian McGrath.
Review © 2006 by Thomas M. Wagner.

Rogue Clone is a better book than The Clone Republic, though in many ways it's just a more confidently rendered version of that book. Clone soldier Lt. Wayson Harris, rising through the ranks of the Unified Authority Marines, has had to come to terms with fighting for a government that hates and fears him to the extent they've even declared him and all his kind illegal. Now AWOL and presumed dead to all but his closest confidants, Harris is drawn back into service — and, naturally, into UA politics — as an all-out rebellion by thousands of colonial worlds against the UA is spreading across the Milky Way like stellar wildfire.

Kent's best choices here involve his refusal to paint any side in the rebellion in unambiguously Lucas-esque shades of white or black. The rebellious worlds may have good reason to dislike the, if not exactly fascistic, still repressive rule of the UA. But they aren't noble freedom fighters by any means, working within the shakiest of alliances that are certain to collapse into internal conflict should they actually succeed in their mutual goal of secession from the UA.

The UA's secret weapon against the rebels is the colossal battleship the Doctrinaire, with over 20 square miles of deck space and some unheard of weapons, the result of a top secret project masterminded by Admiral Bryce Klyber, perhaps Harris' only real friend within the UA. When disaster strikes, Harris cannot be sure if the responsible party is Klyber's chief professional and political rival, the vehemently anti-clone Admiral Che Huang (who has, after all, placed spies aboard the Doctrinaire), or one of the rebel groups like the Mogat Seperatists backed by the lost Central Galactic Fleet under the command of traitorous general Crowley.

I mentioned choices, in the plural, and Kent has made more good ones. Harris is programmed as a clone with an innate loyalty to the UA, but because there's little to no freewill involved in that loyalty, Kent is able to keep his plot intriguingly ambiguous as to who the good guys and bad guys really are. In a story with a more simplistic view of its own moral clarity, there would be an obvious comparison to draw between the Doctrinaire and, say, the Death Star. Is Huang the arch-villain we're meant to think he is? Certainly he's an opportunist and hypocrite, having engineered a lethal bunch of SEAL clones himself. (About those clones, by the way: I had a lingering, nagging question about them from the previous book that Kent answers here, which made me happy.)

Another good choice: not concentrating so much on the pyrotechnics of war as its human aftermath. Certainly Kent gives us exciting space battles. But what he does really well are the haunting, quiet moments after war has taken its toll, and all that's left is the human wreckage scrambling for survival. There's an eerie scene where Harris makes his way through what was once a bustling colonial city, now given over to thugs and gang leaders who've exploited circumstances to turn themselves into petty little Napoleons.

Like The Clone Republic, Rogue Clone has an episodic structure. But it serves this novel better than the previous one, where it often lent the story an uneven feel. A galactic war is much too large for any one individual, however courageous or dutiful, to influence to any great degree. Events ultimately unfold as they will, and Harris simply finds himself swept up after a point, with few options available to him above and beyond staying alive.

Finally, Kent fleshes out the supporting character of Freeman, the strong-and-silent mercenary with whom Harris has partnered. While we learn much more about his background and family ties than we previously knew, the scene eventually leads to the book's only problematic pages. There's a final confrontation that has the feeling of contrivance to it; Harris has the lucky opportunity to settle almost every outstanding personal score (but for a couple, I suppose) before the credits roll. Also, we're given the initial impression that Harris' experiences in this story have overcome much of his clone programming, and given him a new respect for the value of human life. We think he just might settle down and study war no more. In other words, our boy's had a real character arc here. But then we get a dénouement that reboots his programming, solely, it seems, for the purpose of setting up yet another sequel.

Still, that's a nitpick. I'm liking this series more and more. Military SF fans looking for stories that combine mystery, action, espionage, politics, and some thoughtful doses of humanism in exploring their not-entirely-human characters, would do well to add Steven L. Kent to their reading lists.

Followed by The Clone Alliance.