A Review of The Ion War

The Ion WarThe Ion War by Colin Kapp
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I bought this book used last week, I had never heard of the author and knew nothing about the book. It just sounded kind of interesting, even though it was somewhat old and probably out of date. Also, it had mediocre ratings on Goodreads. So, imagine my surprise when I opened the book up a couple of days ago and began reading and couldn’t put it down! I finished this 252 page book in less than 20 hours, while also reading parts of three other books, and I was astonished at how much I loved this book. I think it’s pretty damn awesome! Knowing nothing about the author, I looked him up and found he was British and born in the 1920s and is now dead. He wrote mostly in the 1960s and ’70s and his works are now virtually impossible to find, except that some are available in Kindle editions. I had hoped this book had a sequel, because the way it ended was perfect for a sequel to come along and finish the story, but it was noted on the man’s Wikipedia page as being a standalone book, which was disappointing.

The book is about Hub planet Castalia’s Major Dam Stormdragon, who is chosen to go serve as part of the planet’s military tithe to Earth, the Mother World, even though he has forebodings, misgivings, and is against everything Earth stands for. Earth has been attacking some of the 50+ Hub (colonized by Earthmen some time ago) planets lately and completely destroying them with planet buster bombs, but the Hub worlds don’t know why. We find out later it’s merely because Earth is trying to assert its military superiority. Utter stupidity.

When Dam gets to Earth, he is accosted immediately by an arrogant military officer who demands to see his ship and crew’s private records, which he is forced to hand over. He’s not happy. His commanding officer encourages him to go to the planet for some R&R and he does. And meets a girl in a bar. And goes back to her place. Which is really stupid. Cause he has something to drink … and wakes up beat up with men with guns surrounding him and the girl lying near him with her head blown off and his gun lying nearby. Accused of murder, he can’t escape and no Castalian can help him. He’s given a trumped up trial. His lawyer is denied access to represent him. He is drugged so he can’t speak for himself. And he’s given a death sentence. He can’t believe this has happened to him.

Four hours before his execution, a strange man comes to his cell and makes him a strange offer. Surrender his life to him, for all intents and purposes, “die” and cease to exist and become a part of a new, experimental, highly dangerous combat team that is super secret and super elite. Only the toughest make it. The rest die in training. He agrees and is given his death certificate. He’s taken to a camp, where he meets a woman named “Absolute,” who will become his evil tormentress. She gives him the name of “Lover” and everyone else in the camp has fake names too. It’s explained to him that he doesn’t know pain, but he will, unlike any he’s ever experienced, and that they are involved with a process called para-ion transformations, where people are somewhat magically/scientifically turned ionically into different matter and cease to exist as humans. They become what are known as “ghost soldiers.” They are virtually indestructible. No bullets, lasers, grenades, bombs, nothing can harm them. They can take weapons anywhere and annihilate entire planets with 12 man crews because no one can touch them and this is what Earth has been doing to Hub worlds. And this is what Dam will be trained for.

Meanwhile, several Hub worlds have already been destroyed and an agent named, oddly, Liam Liam is trying to gather information about how Earth is doing it so effectively, how they are destroying good defenses, how they are eradicating entire planets. He has the support of the Hub Council, but not the actual planets, which believe that if they stay on Earth’s “good side,” nothing bad will happen to them. They don’t believe Liam when he tells them that Earth’s objective is to destroy them all. He spies and sets up cameras and recording devices, sees ghost soldiers at work as they destroy a planet with friends of his as he escapes, but he escapes with footage. Now he has information and that’s something. The next time these ghost soldiers go into the interior of a planet, a nuke is set off, blowing the hell out of them. Unfortunately, to Liam’s shock, some of them actually survive and he witnesses this and is determined to find out their technology and duplicate it. Because the footage he has shot has identified one of the ghost soldiers and he has confronted the Hub politician who knows this person. So, he knows they are flesh and blood like anyone else. The question is how to get a hold of this technology.

Meanwhile, Dam is put into a mesh suit and sent into a 1200 degree furnace. It’s agonizing. Using a technical device, he is ionized and is turned into a ghost soldier. He is transparent. He is lighter, faster, more powerful. But the pain he endured from the heat was ungodly. The torture he’s been enduring has been unlike anything he ever expected. Absolute is a sadist. In order to turn back into his human form, Dam has to escape the furnace and get back into another device that will enable him to make the transition. He only has five minutes, or he will start making the transition no matter where he is, including in the furnace. Frantic, he does everything to get out of the furnace, beats it by nine seconds, feels ungodly pain being brought “back to life” again and wonders what’s next. And so begins a training regimen. Barriers are erected in the furnace, time limits are shortened, people die, are incinerated before their eyes, they find strength they never knew they had. Finally, Absolute comes to him with a proposition. She tells him he’s her best and she wants to make him the leader of a new experiment that will make Earth unbeatable, because the Hub rebels have destroyed two ghost soldier ships lately and kidnapped another, as well as several technicians and Earth military officers feel it’s a matter of time before the Hub worlds come up with their own ghost soldiers. Which is exactly what Liam is working on.

Before now, they have had to carry an ungainly, and somewhat heavy pack on their backs to power their ionizations and it’s slowed them down and made them vulnerable. Now, it’s possible to perform a surgery on a ghost solider where his skin is stripped away, leaving his nerve endings open and vulnerable, and a new, thinner, hardier mesh suit is applied to the body, with its own ionization power packs built it, and the skin is then sewn back on over the mesh suit. It’s supposed to be unbelievably painful, but it will make the ultimate killing machine. And Absolute has chosen Dam for this honor. He can’t believe it. He thinks she’s batshit crazy. He says no freaking way. Then she unbuttons her blouse, takes his hand, places it on her chest, and he can feel metal beneath her skin. Shocked, he realizes she’s already undergone this process. He would be the second one. Nonetheless, he states that he merely wants to be a combat solider and refuses to do this. The next morning, he gets a call from her telling him he wins, he’s going to be transferred to combat duty and she’ll never forgive him. He’s to pack his stuff and be ready shortly. Soon, some men arrive, but to his horror, so does Absolute and these men strap him down to a gurney and she leads them off to an operation room. He’s been screwed over. All he can think of is “bitch!” At some point, he wakes up, feels some pain, is given a pain killer, goes back to sleep, wakes again, feels more intense pain, like his whole body is burning, is given another pain killer and then Absolute appears. She tells him when she underwent this they had to find out how effective it was and she was given no pain killers and she simply had to endure and from now on, he would get no more pain killers. He can’t believe her cruelty. And he’s in ungodly, agonizing pain as his nerves graft back together and his skin grows back and meshes with the metal. After a week, he’s feeling better, however, and whereas before he was worried about what a freak he would be as a “metal man,” now he’s almost proud of his indestructibility. Soon, he’s going to find out how it works in action.

Earth targets a new Hub planet and, of course, Liam finds out about it. Indeed, it’s a trap to get Liam. Liam has figured that out, but he’s determined to test his new ghost soldiers against Earth’s ghost soldiers and will be there. Dam’s unit has a multi-part plan. One ship will land taking some 10 regular ghost soldiers who will descend to the depths where this capital city is located underground and they will be followed by Absolute and Dam, as well as some regular commandos. Absolute and Dam are Earth’s secret weapons, because nothing will stand up to them. However, unknown to them, the first group of ghost soldiers has been ingeniously trapped by Liam’s crew and he makes an offer for them to switch sides since they’re largely all Hub conscripts. All but one do. Finally, Absolute and Dam appear and there’s a fight between the opposing ghost soldiers, but then Absolute does something strange. She calls for Liam to come out. He does and she tells him he might be able to save the planet if he takes his men and takes off through space, trying to evade the fleet. She gives him his freedom. He takes it. She and Dam go back up and to everyone’s horror, planet busters are sent down, blowing the planet to smithereens.

Absolute is in real trouble though. She’s placed under arrest on the mother ship, while Dam wonders about his own future. Suddenly, a section commander approaches the ship, announcing he’s taking the prisoner, docks with the ship, and sees Absolute being brought to him. She recognizes Liam, but then Dam ruins everything by appearing with a gun and blowing all to hell and taking the pinace and taking off, while everyone is knocked out by a stun grenade someone threw.

I was near panic as the book was nearly over. How the hell was this going to be finalized? Would Liam escape with Absolute, and how? What would happen to Dam? Would he make it back to a Hub world? Where would the Earth military head next? Really, to find answers to these questions, there aren’t many pages left in the book and I thought there was no possible way they could be answered. I thought this was going to simply be a cliff hanger leading to a sequel. But, NO, everything is resolved in just a few short pages, and satisfactorily! Of course, there’s still much to be done. A war has to be fought. The Hub worlds have to be brought together. This has all the makings of an awesome sequel. Imagine my bitter disappointment to find there is none. Hell, I feel like writing my own 40 years after this was written. Earth has to be stopped!

This was an action packed, tension filled, technically innovative book that read quickly and was quite entertaining. What more can you ask for? It’s not the best sci fi book I’ve ever read, but it’s one of the most satisfying and that says something. I can’t recommend this one enough. But good luck finding it because it’s out of print. I was lucky to just stumble onto it. If you can find it, give it a chance. I really think you won’t be disappointed. Highly recommended.

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