Doodles: Encounter Part One

The explosion shook James awake as his ship rocked dangerously from side to side causing the bedside lamp to fall to the floor with a loud clang.

What the hell?

Another explosion forced the USS Swarm to sway even more violently. Were the Chinese finally attacking Taiwan?

The stealth destroyer’s automated turrets sputtered in the background, destroying what appeared to be dozens of incoming missiles.

James hurriedly pulled on his pants and grabbed his glasses before dashing into the hallway where the entire ship was in a panic. Sailors spilled out of their quarters, clinging to railings, some visibly sea sick. Others scampered by, barely noticing their commander as they hustled to their battle stations.

There wasn’t any sign of water coming from the bulkheads, yet. No wounded or cries for help.

James pulled himself up the ladder towards the bridge, preparing for whatever lay ahead.

“Commmander!”

The duty officer staggered forward grabbing at the steering console as another explosion rattled the hull.

“Are we hit?” James asked.

“No, not yet, we have a single hostile firing at us.”

James shot a glance towards the radar operator whose puzzled look was not reassuring.

“What have we got?”

“Unidentified object, within range of our rail guns. Maybe 50 miles out.”

That was too far for a cannon or torpedo.

“The helicopter didn’t report anything and the channel was too shallow for a submarine.”

Unless the Chinese were using cruise missiles, the chance it was the obvious war dwindled.

“Six more projectiles! Closing fast.”

“Dammit! Brace!” The duty officer screamed.

“What?”

“Brace, sir!”

James grabbed the console as the turrets started to whine again.

How the hell are they within range already?

Again, James shot a look at the radar officer as if to ask what was happening. The lieutenant’s eyes filled with fright.

The force of five more explosions threw James against the console, knocking the wind out of him. He could feel his ribs as he slowly regained his composure, wheezing and nauseous but only with a dull ache. Desperately, he struggled to his feet.

“Counter-measures.” He coughed grabbing at the ships radio.

“This is the commander to the gun deck. Get the rail guns ready.”

The ship couldn’t take another impact. There was no time for rules and regulations.

“Target that object. Hit it with the rail guns. Ten shots!”

The tips of the twin electromagnetically propelled guns appeared in the bridge windows at a nearly perpendicular angle.

The radio cackled.

“Ready”

“Send One and Two”

The sound of thunder was proceeded by a plume of smoke and a directed jet of flame as the projectile burst out of the gun.

The process repeated.

“Send three and four…. send five and six….”

Even at mach 9, the projectiles took a moment to impact. Only as the last few projectiles were launched, were the first explosions visible.

“What the,” the duty officer pointed towards the sky. A large glow emanated from within a cloud in the direction of Hong Kong. “That’s not lightning”

The glow grew into a brilliantly blinding white light. A large slab of metal protruded from the cloud, falling to the sea like a feather. Secondary explosions rippled like lightning as more metal began drifting towards the ocean floor.

“Contact one, two, three, four…..” The radar officer trailed off.

“I think that is a splash.” James muttered in awe. “Get me a situation report. Are we able to make it to port? Get me Kao-hsuing harbor!”

It was then that another report came over the radio. The accent was unbelievable.

“Unidentified ship, this is Hongze Lake. What the hell was that?”

It was a Chinese voice, the English was not terrific but the cursing was real enough.

James grabbed the radio knowing that it meant his encrypted frequency was hijacked. If the Chinese had owned the ship they gave up a truly great advantage just to contact him.

“You tell me!”

“I assure you it was not us. Was it Indian? It was hovering near Hong Kong but it was not us.”

The Chinese commander blamed the only other country nearby with enough clout to build anything of such magnitude. Neither side could contemplate the physics required to build such a monstrosity. Even now, pieces rained down from the heavens in both Chinese and Taiwanese waters.

The duty officer tapped James on the shoulder.

“How are we looking?”

“Apparently a turret destroyed a projectile just above the ship. I think we need to get to port. 5 wounded, no dead, a large amount of damage to the bow. We won’t sink but it isn’t great.”

They would need to get to the newly leased naval base at the edge of the harbor.

Already, questions were floating through James’ head.

Were those aliens? Do they want the world’s two super powers to annihilate each other in a nuclear holocaust?

For years the United States and China jockeyed for position in the South China sea. Tensions were high but neither side wanted to compromise the lucrative yet fragile economic balance. The new cold war was barely even cold. It was a fight between two egos that, as before, would not risk nuclear conflict.

The only thing that was clear as the commander wrangled his ship to port was that someone wanted war.

The harbor base buzzed with life. Soldiers ran back and forth preparing for anything. Every sandbag bunker teemed with anxious, shaking soldiers. Trucks flew by. Tanks backed into prepared positions.

A group of marines spoke between short frantic breathes near the base commander’s office.

“I bet they can take us out with one strike.”

They shot a glare towards James, not knowing he did not instigate the current situation. Everyone, it seemed, saw the light show.

The commander’s office was dark. Radio dispatchers in the adjacent room brought the noise level to that of a stadium.

“Commander.”

A stout old man approached James. He was a colonel.

“Colonel.”

“Not of this base. What the fuck did you do?” The commander blurted out in the least apropos way possible.

“I…”

“The brass is here. Whatever you did, you’re going there.”

An even older colonel approached with a slightly more appropriate demeanor backed by an admiral.

“Commander, you stirred up something, I think.”

“We had to do something.”

“We will deal with that if we live through this.”

“Chinese?”

“We don’t know.”

“One of their ships claimed it was not them.”

“We know, which is why you are going to check this out. We don’t think it came from anywhere on this planet.”

The colonel’s demeanor was as puzzled as it was professional.

“You are the only person who knows what took that … that ship down. If it was Chinese, we are already trying to avoid a war so you better work on your explanation as well.”

“Colonel,” The admiral stated. “Take James to the chopper.”

He turned to James.

“We have ships on site. On our side. Try not to stir anything up. The Chinese are doing the same thing.”

The helicopter ride was tense. Everyone knew that each side was ready to jump at the first sign of conflict.

This same feeling translated directly to the crash site. The different navies clustered along a well defined line. There were no large ships present but an assortment of submarines from both nations likely lay ready to play a dangerous game of cat and mouse over scraps of intelligence.

A navy diving vessel started to materialize near where a large triangular mass stood out of the water. It was made from a material that would not be out of place at NASA. White panels of aluminum and heat resistant material covered it’s length. Attached to the ship seemed to be a large sheet of copper foil.

“Radiation?” James asked.

“Oh yeah, we’re never having kids again.” The colonel quipped.

“Do you think we are at war?”

“I hope not. I don’t think this was the work of humans.” The loud whop of the helicopter blades obscured any emotion.

A detachment of marines stood ready to extract the vessel’s new guests from the helicopter but a staff sergeant ripped James and the colonel aside. They were likely the highest ranking officers on site.

“We found something.”

Expeditionary Force Book One: An Audio Only Book

Funny but with unbearable in terms of literary prowess, Expeditionary force by Craig Alanson is an audible delight and an unreadable mess all at once. This book is perfect listening for your own voyage to another planet or long day at the office.

Nice Comedic Twist on an Old Story

Summing up the plot in a single line, our species is blindly led into a war with a supposed enemy after a tragic mistake.

Dropped on a fertile world aptly named Paradise, humans serve as both pawns and peacekeepers. In the ensuing mess, our unlikely hero Joe Bishop blunders his way into power and a setup for several books chock full of helping the furry Ruhar fight our former lizard-like masters.

The novel is fairly similar in plot to other works of space-based military science fiction but our hero acts more like the pizza guy from Brooklyn than a doctor or colonel. In a sub-genre bursting at the seems with derivative works, Alanson strives to be a Jonathon Swift.

Whether you are an adolescent or adult, the plot and themes make at least the audible book a good match for the politically astute. Alanson’s writing is staunchly ati-war.

All of the plot elements of a typical science fiction novel are present and yet there is something refreshing about the satiric nature driving the plot. Space travel utilizes wormholes. There is the typical spaceship and yet there is a space elevator serving cheeseburgers.

Technical marvels often found in other stories take on a light and realistic twist. Marvels such as translators are terrifically bland. The sentient AI is an arrogant jerk.

Even non-technical elements add to the tone. That seemingly outdated purple monstrosity of the 1990s known as Barney takes on symbolic meaning.

Alanson manages to encompass the debate surrounding war in a satiric and enjoyable way. For the non-Social Justice Warrior crowd who were not raised under a rock as children, the book is worth investigating.

Hamster Love, Reading Nightmare

While the plot is well thought out and the comedy well donee, this is not a book to be paired with Jonathon Swift.

If Craig Alanson writes the word hamster one more time, I will personally drop a box of the rodents in his home. Repetitive, nearly droning, and overly explanatory, this book is unbearable from the perspective of a writer.

Alanson fails to grasp basic storytelling principles, going out of the way to explain instead of show. The writing does slowly evolve into a novel instead of a news story.

The writer’s style is not terrible when considering a young adult audience. However, if the book were a movie, it would be rated R. There is not a single graphic depiction of violence or sex but the language, metaphors, and descriptions of force would garner the rating.

RC Bray Shines on Audible

RC Bray is the perfect voice actor for this book. Available, on Audible, Expeditionary force is a terrifically amusing audio book suitable for headphones at work.

His personality, voice, and comedic portrayal of different characters is superb. Bray deserves a full 10 of 10 for his performance and it is surprising that he has not risen to the level of R Lee Ermy for his voice alone.

Conclusion

As a book, this is something I would avoid. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the audible version read by the gruff RC Bray. The poor writing and journalistic style destroys some scenes but the piece works well as background noise for repetitive tasks.

I will admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the AI Bishop stumbles on three-quarters of the way through the book.

6/10 in book form

8/10 on audible

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