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Book Review - Interstellar Wars – Pike Chronicles

Book Review - Interstellar Wars – Pike Chronicles

I have only just started reading this series of five book and as such this is very much first impressions and admit that they may well change as I continue to read. That in itself is a point in the series’ favour as there are many books that I have simply put down one day and never picked up again (much like a roleplaying campaign that simply ended – the characters forever stuck in limbo, having failed to defeat the Dark Lord). I hold that the reader should read at least a hundred pages of book and it takes impressive inertia to grind me to a halt before that point (though I confess to not getting past page 3 of Fifty Shades of Grey and have utterly no intention of watching the movie). So, having finished the first book I think I am well past the point of sacking it off.

I will move onto the story, but I think it best to start with the protagonist – Jon. Classic sad backstory – dead wife and kids that set him on the road to becoming the greatest warrior in the universe with morals to rival Galahad. He truly is the classic paladin archetype – tall, chiselled features, super strong and generally all-round athlete, oh, did I mention effectively immortal. Yup, all this thanks to a sentient alien parasite. That said, it does occasionally make him do un-paladin things like kill unimportant bad guys out of an acute sense of self-preservation. Did I also mention he is a massive xenophobic knobhead with a penchant for spending the lives of his crew like a kid in a sweetshop with a pocket full of pennies? His reasoning – they are military therefore that is what they signed up for. When the shit hits the fan, he is first off the bridge, dragging his new bit of squeeze down to his own personal lifeboat without looking back over his shoulder once. What a dude!

On to the story.

Our hero is sent on a mission across a universe teeming with aliens looking for lost colonies of humans. After a diaspora through stargates that have since been closed half a millennium ago the colonies are now cut off. He is equipped with a starship that can jump huge swathes of space while all the rest of the universe must rely on the network of stargates and relatively slow faster than light engines (which takes months just to reach the nearest stars). With him on this quest are some alien advisors, a mate (also heroic but not quite) and a few other human elites (think Star Trek or possibly Babylon 5 for those with long memories).

With a jump range of 50 light years and five jumps out from the Solar System, they reach a binary star system (giant stars in a mutual munch competition). Around this binary and therefore a considerable distance they also scan an asteroid belt to which they set a course.

Interlude - Time for a bit of astronomy.

According to this website ( there are around 260,000 stars within the 250ly radius out from Earth (Sol/Solar System). While not many compared to the quantity of stars within the galaxy that is still a lot of stars. As to the system, it is quite a dense belt as the ship clatters through a fair number of small rocks (compared to the small craft sent to the outer planets in our system that encountered effectively nothing). The point is these statements is to reinforce the perception that this region of space is both an infinitesimally small patch of the asteroid belt (I gave up when the calculations of relative volume started to veer towards 1 in a billion*) in just 1 of 260,000 stars.

‘So what’, I hear you ask? Well, it just so happens that this utterly random location is both protected by automated defences and populated by a small band of humans, yup, that’s right, Humans. Coincidences happen all the time; move on. So after a brief fight following a misunderstanding, Jon recovers a life pod.

We are given a tiny snippet of the history of these humans which essentially boils down to vagabonds, robbing alien freighters from an adjacent system just beyond a stargate (which also happens to be in this 1 of 260,000 possible systems the ship could have jumped to). This reiving activity is something these vagabonds have been doing for generations without giving their presence away.

So it comes as something of a shock that just as Jon’s ship approaches this secret stargate a bloody great battleship owned by the aggrieved aliens happens to pop out of the stargate – the first ever to venture into this system.
Now we have not only got an improbable scenario in terms of volume of space but also time in terms of minutes against generations (decades, possibly even more than a century – 52 million hours).

Cue the scene from the Fast Show, ‘[A]nd the same numbers came up again the next week. That was another few million quid; which was nice.’
Did I mention that the two survivors in the life pod turned out to be a rather beautiful and athletic woman who didn’t like her now dead husband (demise courtesy of the good captain) and her adorable little daughter who instantly took a shine to our captain?
Apparently, that last bit was the straw that broke the camel’s back for my wife. She was happy with astronomically improbable chances in terms of space and time, but the perfect missing jigsaw piece to the captain’s life was too much. What can I say, I do physics, she does Love Island.


I could bang on about the jump drive and its seeming ability to use a perfect navigation system such that it can jump light years and arrive with absolute precision.
You know what, I think I will.

Don’t get me wrong, I can accept that two fixed positions in space, i.e. stargates, could become connected (entangled or whatever handwavium terminology floats your boat) but as for jumping to an unfixed destination? Hell, we can’t even decide on a fixed point from which to measure the heights of mountains (mean sea level, the centre of the Earth’s volume or even the theoretical gravitational centre of the Earth). In a system with mutually orbiting stars, orbiting the galactic core and accounting for possible variance in the galactic rate of expansion I’m disinclined to believe that a jump can be plotted to within a few hundred metres. I would be happier with a precision of a few light seconds for a relatively close jump, possibly a few light minutes for a jump of a few light years with a definite warping effect due to gravity wells (to stop you ending up inside something when you arrive). It just feels too much like absolute geometry for a system the data from which is centuries out of date by dint of the speed of light and application of the theory of relativity.

Has this stopped me reading the book? Not a bit of it. The action is great, people are being killed in new and interesting ways and seemingly invincible technology in one scene is redundant outdated scrap in the next. Aliens are two-dimensional and clearly bad-uns and yes, this extends to the allies of humanity. Aliens also come in two types – monsters from DnD (hairy with lots of teeth) or deadpan features with the appearance of three-day-old fish on the Morrisons seafood counter. When the aliens’ plans fail, when they are put down like rabid animals and when our hero and accompanying humans triumph through grit, determination and exploiting the sheer hubris of their alien opponents, we cheer enthusiastically – Hewmens Rool.

I suppose this qualifies as a rather good roleplaying adventure where the players have rifled through the mechanics (and forums) in order to min-max their characters. The GM has spent a fair amount of time writing encounters for vagabond humans, a love interest and multiple unambiguous enemies along with an attempt at mutiny and concluding with a massive setback. As such the players will encounter vagabond humans, a love interest and multiple unambiguous enemies along with an attempt at mutiny and conclude with a massive setback. As to the ramifications of their actions, the players give them as much thought as a person sawing at the trunk end of a tree branch he is sitting on and are seemingly reliant on the GM wanting to continue running the game. As a result, a fair amount of poetic license and stretching probability will be used to keep the plot moving in a favourable direction. And I forgot there must be a highly unlikely betrayal tagged into the massive setback. This will be revealed later but by this point we are almost prepared to believe in ‘Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs’ so crack on.

In summary I would class this as a fun read but don’t look for something with the political entanglement of James Corey (Expansion) or even the twists and turns and general grit of Neal Asher (Polity Universe). This is an uncomplicated plot and set of characters that might well evolve or just as likely remain as improbable but most definitely easy reading. Having just finished five books from the Amber series where anything up to three pages could be spent explaining how the deserts of the Sahara change one element at a time into the chaos of splotchery-sploo and in retrospect seemingly feck-all happened between page 1 and the end of book 3, it is refreshing change of pace. I just hope he spends a bit of time fleshing out some of the NPC’s he kills. So far, the protagonists always seem to be at the front except when a new weapon or ambush turns almost everybody into bloody pulp; then they are conveniently off to one side or knocked out. That said, I don’t want him to go full Gemmel; describing a new character for a page, detailing backstory, love of cats, the annoying hole in his boot and house he is saving up for. Then on the next page have Waylander kill him with the classic spin on the heel and elbow to the throat.
I am honestly looking forward to reading the rest of the series though the astrophysicist side of me is anticipating a 3d6 San loss resulting in rocking back and forth, chanting, ‘in space things move at the required speed of the narrative.’

*I did some fag-packet maths based on our own asteroid belt and relative distance between the larger asteroids (which to be fair is a very diffuse belt). There are probably around 1.5 million rocks larger than a km. Presuming giant class stars, we are talking potentially orders of magnitude more rocks even at relatively low densities.
This ended up requiring the ship to be moving at a hundred times the speed of the Voyager probes (so somewhere in the region of half a million kilometres per hour) to even begin to pose some sort of potential navigation issue. The field could be much denser but that then has the issue of even more rocks to arm.
Scale precludes the ability to defend it all and the arrival of a couple of starships on the scene within moments of breaking free from the intense automated assault further implies that the humans must have been relatively close (a few million thousand kilometres maybe?).

Also, if you are trying to keep a low profile, why would you defend an entire belt, giving away your presence the first time somebody ventured into the belt. In fact why would you even open fire before they all but found your secret base?

GTT step forward to control protection and peace in the Stellar Empire.

With the retirement of Jack Johns and various lower-level IMP officers from public life, the Imperial Services were left on the verge of being unable to fill their role as protectors of the Stellar Empire. Due to the serious nature the Imperial Services found itself in, the Emperor recently travelled to GTT HQ to attend a board meeting with the directors of the GTT.

With Galactic Trade and Transport being one of the few remaining loyal Imperial Chartered affiliations, who also supply well over half of the war material to the Imperial Services, the Emperor sought the position of the GTT with regard to the Imperial Services becoming overburdened with bureaucracy and lacking effective leadership. Effectively the Imperial Services were at the point of collapse. A position highlighted when an opportunistic supposed ally subverted four Imperial Outposts in the Inner Empire, thinking their asset grabbing would go unnoticed.
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  Star Date: 221.30.5

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A Forlorn Hope

The seat of Dewiek Government has fallen. What began as a small group of Architect ships picking up retreating DEN forces, amalgamated into a much larger force. The bombardment fleet comprised dozens of Adult ARC ships plus several Planet Killers. The force made short work of the impressive fortifications of the planetary orbit of Newstart. Multiple heavily armoured and maximised deflector shield platforms crumbled. They did so only after releasing their volleys of antimatter and nova weapon batteries. Any DEN warships that remained from earlier encounters also stood the line. But within the week, the last defence was gone.

Bombardment of Wolf Lair starbase proceeded without further resistance from the Dewiek. ARC Plasmas ripped through starbase shields. They demolished tens of thousands of factories and research facilities. The ARC demolished the huge military recruitment and training facilities on the planet. Over half a million trained troops evacuated from deep bunkers, leaving a token ground defence.

The ARC were not satisfied to burn the facilities and murder the workers. They deployed repeated salvos of their Virus Bombs on the wider population. Reports began to arrive of civilians of the world regressing. Leaving settlements and returning to nature. Much as the Dewiek found themselves some decades ago when they started to recover from the First Great ARC-DEN War. This time there was no High Lord Magnus willing to obliterate the world to save a remnant of the people. Newstart was already lost.

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Newstart is lost

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  Star Date: 221.27.2

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End Game Lost

A short-lived period of peace followed the Dewiek Elder Nation’s historic and Saga-worthy defence against the Architect Planet Killers. A handful of the more typically encountered ARC ships were spotted picking off DEN support ships in Forlorn Hope before more than forty of them appeared back in End Game.

While the ARC “Adult” class ships, as the DEN had previously classified them, were eight times smaller than the “Planet Killers”, they were still as big as the largest ships any other species has managed to produce. Including the otherwise technologically advanced Dewiek.

Forty-four of these Plasma armed organic vessels smashed through the DEN forces left circling the orbit of Beacon, End Game. The mass of ARC weapons bombarded the DEN Shipyards at Ragnorak with their superheated ionized gas, razing the entire outpost to the ground.

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ARC Plasma weapons devastate End Game

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  Star Date: 221.22.5

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Assault on End Game

The ancient Architects have declared war on the Dewiek Elder Nation. The first sign of the conflict was subspace transmissions in a remote system in the Pocket Periphery. This followed reports that the ancient Ragnarok shipyards on Beacon were malfunctioning. In response, the Wolf Mother sent urgent orders to several Dewiek scout ships to patrol the End Game system.

The Konungr Smidamadr was the first to encounter the gigantic, “Planet Killer” class ARC ships. Measuring in at thirty-two hundred heavy hulls and armed with a hundred ARC plasma weapons, the ship was more like a mobile armed platform. It is certainly the largest vessel ever recorded. The scout ship was vaporised instantly.

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ARC Planet Killer dwarves largest DEN warships

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  Star Date: 221.11.4

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Caste Apart

The Flagritz Republic is (very nearly) no more. In its place, a single Hexamon and Flagritz power has arisen. The new Collective has absorbed much of the Flagritz holdings with only a handful of Clique-caste Flagritz systems choosing instead to align with the other Elder species, the Dewiek.

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Flagritz and Hexamon Hybrids - A hope for the Future?

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  Star Date: 221.3.3

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Meklan scout ships continue to be seen around the Orion Spur periphery. These cyborg creatures in service of hidden ancient masters appear to be terrorising the Wimble Nation in particular. Despite public lamentations against the hardship of defending themselves, the Wimble leadership have not yet responded to our request for comment.

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Artist's impression of a Meklanised Wimble

However, Xavier Fox, CEO of Galactic Transport and Trade, did give us the following statement:

“We have engaged several Meklan ships, although currently the source has not been identified. GTT Directors have been running patrols and have engaged and destroyed numerous ships that have attacked outlying outposts belonging to different affiliations. The pattern of ships encountered leads us to believe there is a central source, but until that is found we would suggest any affiliation with assets in the area provide adequate defences.”

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Doomsday On Pause

At the site of the Thete anomaly, the Dewiek Nation has sent media sensation Sharon Aleman to the scene. Aleman, whose cybernetic enhancements allow her to directly interface with her ship’s sensor array, led her hardened crew into a dive of the outermost “edge” of the anomaly. After spending several days collecting and analysing data (mere minutes to the rest of us outside the anomaly), Aleman reported her shocking discoveries.

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  Star Date: 220.50.5

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Veil Lifted on Flagritz Home Space

As the Hellcadium ISR field continues to fluctuate, one of the newly exposed systems is Junista inside the previously hidden and inaccessible home periphery of the Flagritz Republic.

Over the past few weeks Flagritz Republic patrols and platforms have dealt with a number of scout ships from the Human Empire as the IMP wasted no time in exploiting this opportunity to poke around in their old enemy’s backyard. It is understood that at least one of these unarmed scouts was destroyed with no one willing to estimate how many more might be buzzing around.

Coincidentally, suspected IMP lackey, SSL TOAD, has also been overheard showing an obsessive interest in the Flagritz periphery. However, we have received no reports of this being anything other than his usual drug-fueled, barely decipherable mutterings at this stage.

Either way, this sudden, uninvited interest in the Flagritz Periphery has left the FLZ leadership muttering darkly about appropriate measures being taken. Defensive fleets and supporting structures are being deployed in the Junista system and beyond in expectation of further uninvited guests.

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When You stare into the Flagritz Periphery...

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Thete's Timey-Wimey Tease

Investigation into the Thete anomaly continued in the Dewiek Pocket Periphery. The anomaly was scanned from all angles by a number of the Dewiek Nation’s best sensor ships and officers. The data, collected over several weeks, was sent to one of the DEN’s most advanced scientific laboratories for analysis.

What they found will shock you!

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  Star Date: 220.45.1

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Perfidion Reached

Long speculated by theoretical Stellar Cartographers, Perfidion Reach finally opened in the last few weeks. Immediately, the Detinus Republic boldly staked a claim on the first accessible system, Hellcadium. Only time will tell the true value of this strategic move but their much-taunted bureaucracy may have finally proved its worth.

Early reports from scans of the system reveal a wildly fluctuating ISR field. Rumours suggest that at least one ship was destroyed as it was forced into an asteroid belt chasing a stable jump field attempting to exit the system. Casual travellers are warned away from the system at this time for their own safety. Leave it to skilled explorers and navigation officers.

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Mathematical model of Hellcadium ISR Field.

We spoke to Captain Zakiyah Ummahi via subspace link. Zakiyah led the first DEN expedition into the Perfidion Reach. "Spirits remain high but this is largely down to the extended R&R we were all forced to take immediately prior to jumping into this hole. Initial scouting reports show at least one planet with plenty of forests and grasslands which might help if we're going to be stuck here for Folkvar knows how long waiting for this damned ISR field to stabilise."

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Valhalla Stargate Reopens

Dewiek engineers and scientists have finally managed to re-enable Stargate Valgrind this week and the protective Exclusion Zone is to be lifted. If DEN investigators discovered who caused the gate to malfunction, or why, they were not willing to share it with us. Military sources, however, have announced a project to provide a significant boost to the already formidable defence platform in the stargate’s orbit.

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*** Inter Galactic News ***

Empire - DEN action grinds to a halt

After months of tension relations between the Empire and the Dewiek Nation, which rose to several large scale fleet actions ending in the DEN losing over 60 Direwolf warships in Solo, things appear to have moved from antagonistic to unfriendly. With the Solo system being a particular issue an agreement has been reached between the Wolf Mother of the DEN and Xavier Fox of the GTT. Since this things have become very quiet, not just because the shooting has stopped, but also because my reporters have been on their summer holidays.
News For Discerning Naplians!
---- Special Galactic Edition ----

(The Host sits at his desk as the studio lights dim, and a single spotlight bathes him in light. He looks straight into the camera and begins to speak: )

Host: Naambta!
Good Greetings, and welcome to the show.

This is News for Discerning Naplians, and i’m sure you are all showing much impatience to see this week’s Panel Discussion. We will be discussing religion with the Lady Ghadir of the Temple of Ya Zoon, renowned neo-naplian spiritualist Chairman TonTon, and a very special guest from our imperial neighbours, Bishop Samantha Porteus of the Brotherhood. But before we get to that...

(Looks demonstratively at his digital wrist watch. )

... it is time for a word from our sponsor.

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I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).