Scorpio

Cover: Scorpio by Marko Kloos

Scorpio is the newest entry in Marko Kloos’s Frontlines series, which pits space-faring humans against gigantic aliens in a fight for survival among the stars.

While the previous entries in the series — starting with Terms of Enlistment and ending with Centers of Gravity — are focused on Andrew Grayson, this new series (dubbed Frontlines: Evolution) introduces an entirely separate cast of characters.

In Scorpio, Alex is one of the last survivors of a colony overrun by Lankies nearly eight years prior.  The book offers a glimpse into colony life as Alex and the others struggle to make due in a world turned toxic.

So, how does this second onboarding point to the Frontlines universe hold up?

Let’s take a look.

Details

TitleScorpio
SeriesFrontlines: Evolution
AuthorMarko Kloos
Publisher47North
GenreScience fiction
Intended audience16+
Rating8 of 10
Will I read the next one?Yes

What to expect

While Scorpio is an evolution of the existing Frontlines series, the point of view is different, and readers will be exposed to different elements.  Here’s what to expect:

  • Gigantic aliens.
  • Survival narratives.
  • A cool dog.
  • Guns and explosions.
  • Military tropes and themes.

Kloos is a master at taking the genre’s best assets and putting them to good use (as seen in both Frontlines and The Palladium Wars).

As I mentioned in my review of Terms of Enlistment, you won’t always find something new and unfamiliar, but you can expect ideas that you’re already comfortable with to be used in unique and interesting ways.

Warnings

Is this series done?No.  It’s just getting started.
Any graphical content?Not really.
People die, sometimes horribly, but Kloos doesn’t focus on it in a way that’s gory or grotesque.
How long is this book?Short-ish.

Recommendation

Obviously, if you liked the Frontlines series, you’re a shoo-in for this.

If you’re new to the Frontlines universe, Scorpio can serve as a good jumping-on point, but keep in mind that Terms of Enlistment is a recommended first read.

In this book, Kloos is assuming a fair amount of reader knowledge regarding the Lankies and the existing universe.  While you don’t need to have read all the other books in order to start this one, Scorpio and the rest of the Frontlines: Evolution series will probably make more sense if you do.

Aside from that, this is a great entry into the military science fiction genre, and it’s unlikely that readers will be disappointed.

Overview (minor spoilers)

Scorpio was overrun by Lankies nearly eight years ago.  They showed up, killed everyone with their gas pods, and set the dial on the terraformer from “human-habitable” to “Lanky-preferred.”

Alex and the other survivors just happened to be close to the underground shelter on the day the Lankies arrived, but they’ve been struggling to survive since the aliens came knocking.  Now, nearly a decade in, the air outside the shelter is deadly to humans within minutes.

Unfortunately, our colonists can’t just survive in the vault.  They need supplies to keep the shelter running — things that they can’t manufacture by themselves.

That’s where the salvage team comes in.  The last of the military regiment stationed on Scorpio, along with a handful of civilian techs, leaves the vault on weeks-long missions to gather supplies from settlements that were overrun.

Alex Archer accompanies them.  As a dog handler, she and Ash, her black shepherd, function as the salvage team’s early warning system to prevent the Lankies from sneaking up on them in the soupy weather and low visibility.

Of course, things don’t always go according to plan … and, if something does go wrong, help is 40+ light years away.

What works

This first book in the Frontlines: Evolution series gives readers an interesting insight into the other side of the proverbial coin when it comes to the Lankies and their habits.

Readers of the previous novels have only seen the colonies from the perspective of the military, through the eyes of Andrew Grayson, who drops into Lanky-occupied worlds with ballistics and orbital strikes at the ready.

But the colony survivors don’t have many big guns, and survival on this Lanky-overrun world is very much a game of cat and mouse.  If the Lankies spot the salvage team, they’ll probably die.  Alex and Ash are there to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Unfortunately (and I don’t think I’m giving anything away here), it’s not always a milk run.  In the book, we see what happens when things go sideways on a mission.

And, overall, this largely works.

The view of life as a struggling colonist has a different flavor from what I’ve come to expect with the standard Frontlines entry.  Alex is an interesting character.  It’s also fun to see a working animal cast as a central character in a universe where we haven’t really seen that many animals at all.

From the perspective of characterization, Alex is that just-right age where she vaguely remembers life before the Lanky invasion and can draw comparisons to what things were like before and after they showed up.  At the same time, Alex doesn’t remember Earth.  This adds a dynamic to the story that we didn’t see with Andrew Grayson, who grew up there and was actively trying to depart.

By the end of the novel, I felt like I’d gotten to know a lot about Alex and was happy to be along for the ride.

What doesn’t

Overall, this story feels a lot closer than we’ve seen with previous series entries.  The perspective is more narrow, and time passes more slowly.

While this does open up a bit more in the back half of the book, the first half of the novel is basically one salvage mission with Alex and her fellow survivors.

That’s a lot of real estate for what basically amounts to one giant scene.  I was surprised by that, since Kloos typically covers timespans at a much faster clip.

Unfortunately, I found this to be a bit of a struggle.  Alex is a new character, and our first encounter with her is on a salvage mission on an unknown planet.  A lot of Alex’s character development in this section is made through direct reference to her life back at the shelter.  But, as a reader, we have no idea what she’s talking about.

And that creates a problem with stakes.  We know the stakes:  The salvage team needs to gather supplies to keep the colony running.

The problem is that, having never seen the colony and knowing nothing about the people there, greatly diminishes what is supposed to be a critical and dangerous mission.  The reader doesn’t really get a chance to invest in the characters before the action starts.  And, once things kick off, there isn’t a ton of time for reflection.

All of this unfolds as the world expands … but it takes a little over half of the story to get a change of scenery.

That impacts the pacing pretty heavily, to the point that it makes the first part of the novel feel like one (very) long short story.

All that said, I’m glad that I pushed through.  Once the story opens up in the back half, the narration felt more familiar and less claustrophobic.  My guess is that the next book in the series will also feel a bit more open, now that Kloos has sufficiently expanded the reader’s bubble of awareness.

What’s weird

The thing I struggled with the most in this piece was the sense of “when.”

The colony has been overrun by Lankies for eight years, and they haven’t had any communication with Earth since then.  While I totally understand the isolation, it’s also difficult to figure out when/how Alex ended up in this situation.

The colonists refer to the aliens as Lankies, so the colony must have had some contact with Earth after Lankies were discovered.  But, from previous entries in the Frontlines series, we know that the NAC suspended all colonization efforts after the Lankies showed up because they couldn’t hold onto their colonies.

However, because we don’t know “when” this is happening, it’s hard to figure out if that makes any logical sense.  

We get some more backstory and information throughout the novel, but I never found a good answer to this … and it bugs me, even though I realize that it’s probably not that big of a deal for the standard reader.

What’s next?

Overall, this felt like a strong, new entry into the Frontlines series.  Kloos does sci-fi really well, and I like his realistic take on the classic alien invasion scenario.

If you’re just getting started with Frontlines, pick up the rest of the series after (or before!) you read Scorpio.  You won’t be disappointed.

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