the Little Red Reviewer

Experimenting outside my comfort zone

Posted on: April 12, 2011

Contra Alliance, by Tom Kolega

Published: 2010

Where I got it: Received review copy from the author

Why I read it:  I don’t read much military SF, and this was an opportunity to read something outside of my usual comfort zone.

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In the late 1800’s, a space-faring race called the Nerrial discovered Earth and made it their mission to secretly help us find a peaceful way into the future. They had already seen what warfare can do to a civilization, and they wanted to save Earth from that fate. Able to pass as humans, Nerrial emissaries raised their children and passed their secrets down. As the years went by, and warfare on Earth evolved from dangerous to brutal to nuclear, the Nerrial philosophy became one of influence, rather than observation. The emissaries worked their way high into the militaries of the Earth superpowers, and stopped educating their children about who and what they were. One day, soon, the time will be right for the Emissaries to reveal their secret.

Jump ahead a few more generations, and it’s Earth, during the 2030’s. Embittered America is no longer the superpower she once was, and International peacekeeping missions have their hands full dealing with South American drug cartels, the Russian mafia, and corrupt dictators on a handful of continents.  A worldwide anti-civilization, anti-establishment terrorist organization known as The Revolution has started funding criminal organizations and providing high tech weapons to anyone willing to ally with  them.   NATO knows it’s time to bring in their three teams of the most skilled and most talented soldiers, the strike force known as CONTRA.

The CONTRA teams chase Revolution leads to Taiwan and Columbia, but none of their contacts seem to know anything about The Revolution or it’s leaders, known simply as The Three.  Almost worse than running right into Revolution allies, CONTRA unearths a second secret lab. The first Revolution lab that had been discovered was nicknamed The Demon Lab – a super high tech genetics lab filled with human / animal crossbreeding experiments.  It seems the closer CONTRA gets to the truth, the more dangerous the missions become. And time is very much running out.

Contra Alliance is most definitely an ensemble piece, and we meet the half dozen or so senior members of each CONTRA team, learning a little about everyone’s past, and most importantly, how they came be to part of CONTRA.  Most of the supporting cast remains fairly one dimensional, but with such a large ensemble to keep track of, this is fine.

All of the Contra Alliance team members have call-signs that reflect something about their personality, and as the vast majority of the book takes place during military action,  many of the characters are only ever referred to by their call-signs, and it started to make the whole thing feel a little superhero-y. Speaking of superheros, all of these Contra Alliance folks are perfect. Too perfect. I don’t need every character I meet to be a Sand Dan Glokta, but ya’ll know I’ve a major weakness for flawed characters.  These folks were so shiny perfect,  I’d have been happy with a speeding ticket.

I very rarely read military scifi, and Contra Alliance became my guinea pig to read something a little out of my comfort zone.  I tripped a bit over the constant military and government acronyms, but Kolega offers a short and very helpful appendix in the back with what everything means, along with a listing of characters and some very nice artwork in the same vein as the cover art.

You can tell by the attention to military detail that Kolega put a lot of research and effort into creating this.  However, the fairly simplistic storyline and young adult feel made it feel too much like a comic book or video game adaptation for me to fully enjoy.   I gave up around the 2/3rds point, it seems that just as everything started to come together, I completely lost interest. This isn’t a knock against Kolega, I stepped out of my comfort zone, and because of my deep-seated and stubborn personal preferences, this book just didn’t work for me.  I think had the storyline more followed the alien group(s), I would have found it more interesting, especially to see how these other cultures viewed humanity and our potential. I do believe Kolega plans to give more screen (page?) time to these other groups in future books in the series.

Contra Alliance didn’t work for me, but this is a fine read for teen readers, or anyone looking for some lighter military SF with an alien/first contact bent.

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3 Responses to "Experimenting outside my comfort zone"

I cannot see the word “Contra” without thinking of document shredding and political embarrassment. :)

Military science fiction was something I only got into a few years back, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far. The latest was the first couple of Tanya Huff ‘Valor’ books and they were good. Outside of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, I still think John Scalzi’s Old Mans War series is the best.

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LOL! yeah, that too!

when Scalzi’s first book came out, I got it from the library but it didn’t anything for me. Maybe I got distracted by something else, maybe the timing was wrong, maybe I unfairly gave it a short shrift. All I hear is how awesome his stuff is, so I will give it another try.

I’ve read Starship Troopers a handful of times, I think it’s my Heinlein obsession that hooked me on that one.

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I have Starship Troopers on my shelf. It’s not my usual but I keep meaning to try it.

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