War is hell, even if you never make it out of basic training. In Merritt Graves’s LAKES OF MARS, Aaron Sheridan runs from the guilt of a terrible accident that wiped out his family, and lands in Corinth Station, the most dangerous and cutthroat military training academy in the galaxy.
Humanity is at war with a horrific insect-like alien foe called the Verex, and Aaron is ready die in frontline combat. His guilty conscience makes him unreliable as both a military cadet and a narrator, and the Peyton Place-meets-Lord Of The Flies –meets-first-half-of-Full Metal Jacket vibe of Corinth Station adds to Aaron’s malaise. Students are literally killing each other to get ahead, and nothing is quite as it seems.
LAKES OF MARS has so many twists and turns it’s hard to know whom Aaron should trust. It seems he always gets the wool pulled over his eyes and the rug tugged out from under him, yet he keeps getting back up and into the game. Surely, Aaron can trust his love interest, Eve, right? In fact it’s Aaron and Eve’s romance that gives LAKES OF MARS both its heart and its backbone.
LAKES OF MARS hints at big bug conflicts, in the grand spirit of Starship Troopers, but instead opts for more cerebral battles of wit and espionage. Most of the action is experienced second-hand, either through computer-simulated skirmishes, or when cadets are virtually “tied in” to soldiers under attack. This sometimes creates the feeling the characters are playing an elaborate video game, and never in any real danger. But author Merritt Graves sets readers up for a “live kill” late in Act II that is truly heartbreaking. You don’t often get an emotional “gut punch” in military science fiction, but Graves pulls off this nifty literary feat with clever character development and closes the novel with a battle sequence that delivers the promised punch.
Merritt Graves’ solid command of style, pacing, and science fiction-speak brings LAKES OF MARS to a satisfying conclusion, while the loose ends will leave readers eager for the next volume.
~Rob Errera for IndieReader