Iain McKinnon, known for his apocalyptic zombie novels Domain of The Dead and Remains of The Dead moves into the realm of science fiction with From The Torment of Dreams, which has absolutely nothing to do with zombies. In deep space, a war is being waged between the Terrain Alliance and one of their subjugated colonies, Neotra. The author doesn’t provide the reader with an in depth political explanation of why the Neotrans have fought to separate themselves from Earth and its allies at the start of this tale, instead choosing to thrust us right in the middle of a battle in space, or to be more exact, a rebellion ambush of a ship filled with ground troops being brought in to fortify the Alliance’s positions. The only survivor of a devastating attack on the ship is Lan, a young man who joined the military to get away from a lost love. Unfortunately for Lan, his cryogenically induced deep space dreams are filled with visions of Nicola, his former love, playing in his head like a broken record. Even as he awakens to make his way to an escape pod as the ship is breaking up, visions of the woman he loved and who dumped him plague him relentlessly.
We are also introduced to Captain Jackson, one of the rebel leaders of the assault on Lan’s ship, who crosses paths with the injured soldier as the battle rages on aboard ship. Mistaken for another rebel when Terrain reinforcements arrive, Lan is imprisoned along with Jackson and his crew.
At the same time, we are introduced to Zinner, who is a Bavashee, a part of the Terrain military Special Forces who are genetically grown to be the perfect warriors. Only a few remain in the galaxy (they were plentiful during the Apocalypse Wars in the ancient past), and Zinner is one of the best still around. In his efforts to infiltrate Neotran on a secret mission, he comes across and wipes out a small, somewhat primitive village far away from the main civilized outposts of the colony, in an effort to maintain secrecy. He kills them all out except for Nasim, who was away from the village at the time, returning to discover the horror Zinner and his team have left behind. Nasim, who has some intriguing talents of his own, chooses to pursue the Special Forces leader in an effort to get revenge.
The author pulls together a great many ‘smaller’ and ‘bigger’ subplots while the threads of the main story get weaved together with the others at a steady pace. The author leaves the main path a time or two, but always returns to it in time. With these diversions we get to see the war in a bigger picture format-from the Terrain General discussing strategy with his right hand man to one of the men plotting to assassinate a key political figure. The plot does meander a bit, but the stories kept my interest throughout.
The writing here is solid, and Iain has a strong concept of military tactics and makes the science fiction plausible-allowing the tale to not get gummed up with over the top details that would have been a distraction. The characters make sense and fit well into their environments-with enough background details to enlighten but not smother. Zimmer is understandably brutal and vicious, while Lan is tortured but transformed by both his military training and the torture of his body while imprisoned and by the dreams that endlessly haunt him.
I thought it interesting that the author was able to deftly steer me away from rooting for either side in this war (or so it seemed). Sure, there were reasons for believing that the Neotrans deserved their freedom, but it was the characters major and minor, including the Terrain General who plots and plans both the attacks and defense of his forces, that really mattered here. Iain McKinnon has a knack for crafting characters that you feel an emotional attachment to-whether you love them or hate them, they get under your skin and stay there for a while.
Overall, this is a fun sci fi tale of rollicking space battles and the soldiers who fight in them. But this story told could take place in space, on earth, in the future or in the far flung past and it would still make sense. It is a saga of men and the wars they wage, which is a timeless concept, and one that is endlessly intriguing.
From The Torment of Dreams can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00D4DVCHU/ref=cm_cr_thx_view