Picking up about a decade from author Mike Gullickson’s first NORTHERN STAR book, THE CIVIL WAR takes place in a bleak future where the whole Middle East is occupied territory, the biggest corporation on Earth makes a mind-link VR-type internet, and the U.S. military’s most advanced weapon is cyborg super-soldiers. It’s hard to talk of good and bad guys here, but the protagonist is undoubtedly John Raimey, a cyborg who turns out to be one of the most human people in the whole book. Haunted by visions of his dead wife and living but estranged daughter, he navigates this strange world not always doing the right thing but always trying. But Earth has become a battleground between the villainous Secretary of Defense Evan Lindo, who wants to steal other people’s brains to turn his into a world-dominating super-brain; and Cynthia Revo, the CEO of the mind-link internet corporation who’s basically the only thing standing his way, a sort of lawful evil to his chaotic evil, taking drastic measures to defend the admittedly flawed status quo.
THE NORTHERN STAR: THE CIVIL WAR not only cleverly inverts the usual sci-fi storyline of the too-powerful corporation trying to take over the US government (more the other way around here), but in general it tries to reinvent the fighting-robots subgenre, a subgenre which, admittedly, might seem a bit played out. And while it’s true that the series has yet to adequately explain what makes giant cyborg mechas better weapons than, say, UAV drones or tanks, the nature of the world building is nonetheless impressive, and the characters, though they sometimes seem insignificant motes compared to the massiveness of the global events that surround them, are well-rounded people with complicated motivations and well-paced story arcs.
Like its predecessor, THE CIVIL WAR is morally complicated, gritty, brutal and perhaps above all gory. It continues the series’ refusal to give out easy answers to either today’s or tomorrow’s problems. The war between the US government (or more accurately, Evan Lindo) and Mindcorp plays out like the history of the French Revolution, a complicated and multi-stage story in which both sides’ viewpoints are presented, and every catastrophic event has a relatively traceable cause. Even a mustache-twirling villain like Evan Lindo has clear motivations, even if they are clearly insane.
Even more so than the first book in the series, this smart book tries to be more than just an action thriller with giant fighting cyborgs.
THE NORTHERN STAR: THE CIVIL WAR tries to be more than just an action thriller with giant fighting cyborgs. It’s a smart book with a depth of emotion that might not seem any more plausible than the first volume in the series, but in terms of its own internal consistency, still somehow manages to make perfect sense.