NO Book Review: John Ringo's A Hymn Before Battle

TITLE: A Hymn Before Battle
AUTHOR: John Ringo
PUBLISHER: Baen Publishing Enterprises
PUBLICATION DATE: Oct 2001 (Paperback, 1st printing)
COPYRIGHT: 1999, Martin Russ
ISBN: 0-671-31841-1 (paperback)
BOOK TYPE: Science Fiction Paperback (Hard Military SciFi)
PRICE: 7.99 US, 10.99 Canadian
Size: 467 page paperback


If you read David Drake, David Weber, Ian Douglas, or similar authors, you'll probably find A Hymn Before Battle a good read. It is military sci-fi, with a fair degree of focus on the detail though not perhaps as much as perhaps Drake has provided or Weber in certain works. It is also a "Bug War" story - the archetypal "aliens are coming to invade Earth" storyline is present. And it is a story that focuses on good soldiers, mostly inept leaders, and the corruption of politicians of any stripe. But for all that, the story is a little less than archetypal in many ways.

The broad description of the plot is this: The humans, and other Galactic races, are threatened by the incursions of the Posleen, a rapacious alien enemy. They have been losing worlds to the Posleen for a very long time. The Galactics, for various reasons, are not disposed to fight the Posleen (or at least are very ineffective at doing so). Enter Humanity, stage left. However, Humanity scares the Galactic races quite a bit, so only in extremis are they let in on the state of affairs beyond their own little corner of the universe. Needless to say, this extremity is where the book begins!

The Galactics cut a deal with the humans - we'll give you GalTech (wazoo supertech) and in exchange you'll help defend the next set of target planets (Earth plus two others). We can't save you from invasion, but we'll let you fight with some wazoo supertech and you can lay the beatdown on the Posleen for us. That is the deal the Humans are offered and have to accept.

The story follows the problems of a worldwide callup of "anyone who's ever worn a uniform" (even back to Vietnam) and the difficulties in training and equipping people for "The Next War" while the Brass of the militaries are still mired in "The Last War". And of course, their are production and supply issues with GalTech and their are some nasty idiosyncracies to dealing with Galactic political structures. And a world scared to death of the coming invasion.

The combat in the book revolves around special operations forces scouting the enemy and then urban fighting on a planet called Diess amidst megascrapers. The description of the combat is well done, and the book tries to appreciate the differences between modern day Light Infantry battleplans and what can and will be done once you equip a lot of troops with cee-fractional grav rifles and powered armour that can move real fast, hit real hard, and take quite a pounding. Also, the author tries to factor in alien tactics (or lack thereof, though the hint is they will evolve in subsequent books) and how the Human approach to combat interacts with them.

The book is fairly successful in characterizing a number of soldiers, both good and bad. It does a good job of capturing the panic that happens when units crumble and the types of leadership that can pull the fat out of the fire. And it illustrates that Tomorrow's War is never Yesterday's War. It also shows that no matter how dire the situation is, politically motivated individuals will be seeking the high-ground and the sources of power and control.

The characters are interesting, the combat descriptions are an interesting blend of modern day and far future as is the technology that inspires them, and the aliens, though somewhat one dimensional to start with are given a bit of meat as the book wears on. By all appearances, we'll learn more about them (as will the Humans) in subsequent books.

The book is readible, the plot is mostly fairly fast-moving, and the action sequences are described well enough to allow me to envision the kinds of fighting going on with ease. The characters remind me a lot of some of the people I met in the Armed Forces (both good and bad) and consequently I think Ringo has a good grasp of the base from which his characters are drawn. All in all, a pretty good value for the genre. It promises to be an interesting series.


Readability: 9/10
Detail: 7/10
Plot: 8/10
Value: 8/10
Overall: 8/10