As I mentioned in my review of Earth 2, I like books like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonfall and television shows like Terra Nova inevitably catch my eye. As a teacher of history and a writer, I love stories about the human struggle to establish order in a new, untamed place. It don’t care if it’s a new continent or a new world. I decided to dig further into the genre, to learn more about modern colonization stories and what makes them successful (or not). I found Genesis by Ken Lozito.
My hunt for a modern colonization story began, predictably enough, on Amazon. Digging through the Science Fiction & Fantasy > Colonization tag, I kept seeing one book in particular pop up: Genesis by Ken Lozito. Its Amazon category is military science fiction. But the blurb didn’t give any hints about what kind of threat the colony would have to deal with. I went ahead and picked it up, hoping I’d find what I was looking for in terms of tropes and style.
After reading, it’s easy to see why Lozito is a successful indie science fiction author. He’s incredibly prolific (a book every two months is no joke, friends). And Genesis by Ken Lozito hits all the high marks I expect from the military science fiction genre, particularly in terms of pacing and character. It reminded me a bit of Terra Nova, if Terra Nova had been marketed toward fans of John Ringo.
Overall, I give Genesis by Ken Lozito four stars. The book is not groundbreaking. Some parts dragged a little for me. In addition, it is not a “pure” example of a colonization story in the style of Dragonsdawn or Fall of Angels; in those novels, the actual building of the colony is the focus of the story. However, it is pleasantly solid and engaging. The hero is likable, and I spent an enjoyable afternoon reading Genesis. Here’s the breakdown:
Genesis by Ken Lozito opens by establishing the status quo. Connor Gates, the main character, leads a shadow military unit known as the Ghosts on a secret mission against a criminal organization known as The Syndicate. (The Ghosts are a crack team of close-knit individuals. And Connor is reminiscent of Jack Reacher, the 6’5″ bear of a man somehow capable of accurately firing guns akimbo.)
Connor’s decision to go after The Syndicate, without waiting for backup, results in the deaths of all civilians on the station. However, it turns out the disaster was all a set-up. The Ghosts become scapegoats for the massacre. (Although I don’t fully understand the Syndicate’s motivation for the massacre, it didn’t detract from the story.)
Following the massacre, Connor’s mentor, the Admiral, pulls strings to save him. The reader later learns the Admiral is also the man who has saved all of humanity by arranging for the development of the Ark colony ship. Now, the Admiral sneaks Connor aboard the Ark colony ship, against Connor’s will. And, the Admiral promises to do his best for Connor’s estranged son and the rest of the Ghosts, as well.
200 years later
Connor wakes up far into the future and slowly regains his memories, while refusing to believe that he’s been in stasis. In fact, he believes the whole thing is some Syndicate interrogation technique. This might have been tedious; “refusing to believe what the audience knows is true” isn’t my favorite storytelling trick, common and sometimes necessary as it may be. But Lozito still kept my interest with some deeply satisfying scenes. In one, Connor attacks a doctor who keeps sticking him with needles. In others, critical characters are introduced, including the Love Interest, Lenora, an energetic, adorably reckless, anthropologist who is grateful to Connor for knocking out the doctor. The scene offered reassurance to me as a reader that the doctor was a jerk who deserved it.
It’s pulpy military science fiction, after all.
In any event, Connor finally gains access to the planet about 25% of the way through the story, a pace that felt right on target for the genre. There, he embarks on an orientation tour that mostly serves to establish Diaz as a buddy sidekick. As a former marine infantryman, Diaz has all the right credentials to stand at Connor’s side.
Connor and Diaz almost immediately must face and engage a presaged predatory animal threat. In addition, they meet the book’s antagonist, Mills, the head of the planetary defense force. Mills ignores Connor’s warning about the animals being capable of advanced thinking. He charges into a funnel trap straight out of primitive human hunting techniques. Of course, Connor doesn’t stand down as ordered and convinces Diaz to help him save the day. Mostly. One man dies, and two others are wounded. Of course, Mills is quick to blame Connor for “spooking” the animals directly into his team’s path.
The idea of the ignorant and stubborn leader isn’t anything new. But this exchange was honestly one of my favorites because I wasn’t sure what to expect thematically. Would Connor once again be blamed for deaths not his fault? Would he be punished or rewarded for his impulsiveness? And, would he have to learn to play politics to rise above the enemy’s ability to deflect blame?
I love it when a book makes me wonder where is the author going with this?
Connor Finds His Place
Genesis by Ken Lozito plays it straight. In short order, the colony leaders use drones to confirm that Connor was correct about his tactics and made the right choice, saving lives. At this point, Connor finally commits to his life and role in the colony. He’s found his “place” and something valuable he can contribute. While the planetary defense force has many nice men, good-souled and hardworking, they’re law enforcement, not military. They don’t have the expertise Connor brings to the table. Therefore, Connor convinces the colony leaders to let him create a small, elite, volunteer “search and rescue” team designed to fill the gap in their defenses.
Finally, the planet’s new government gives Connor free rein to use his expertise. As a reward for his decision to act against orders, they allow him to train and lead a SAR team. A good portion of the middle of the novel is devoted to a training montage / team building exercise that hits all the marks and tropes. There’s even cutesy nicknames, including the inevitable Babyface, sir yes sir!, and excessive punishments. The trainees dig latrines, run punishment details, and learn to shoot.
But what’s different (and enjoyable) about this segment is that the novel tells the story from the point of view of the officer in charge – a rare thing – and not the recruits. Even books like The Heart of Valor by Tanya Huff, where Torin Kerr is a Gunnery Sergeant and hardly a raw recruit, don’t give us the viewpoint of the person in charge. So, that was nice.
I don’t want to spoil the rest, but I will say that I enjoyed how well everything came together. Lozito did a particularly nice job with the climax of the story. Connor’s new team shows their stuff in an action sequence that was high-energy, clever, and riffed off elements that had been expertly set up. The ending seeded some interesting hints and world-building for the sequel.
Most of the characters in the novel are pretty well drawn, even minor characters. Connor embodies everything a well-meaning soldier should: bravery, intelligence, morals, and obedience, with a dash of bravado. Diaz makes a good sidekick, a fun-loving guy with a moral compass that swings Connor’s way. The antagonist is a guy who just Doesn’t Understand the Real Danger, ignorant rather than evil. The new SAR team has a wide variety of intriguing characters, including at least a couple of capable women.
But that leads me to the one downside: Genesis has a pretty large cast of characters. Lozito did his best to pare those down to the core number relevant to any particular scene. But, I really struggled to keep them straight for the first 20% of the book or so and during the training montage.
And, just when I finally thought I had a sense of who everybody on the Ghost team was, those characters were separated from Connor. That they were never on-screen again jarred me a bit. I assume they’ll reappear later in the series. But it did mean that the first quarter of the book felt like a really long build-up for the series. In the end, it had fundamentally little to do with the current book’s “promise of the premise.”
When I began reading Genesis by Ken Lozito, I had difficulty connecting with the characters enough to become emotionally invested. I paused more than once in reading, wondering if I should continue. I don’t think I would have read on if the novel hadn’t been so highly ranked, so consistently. However, I am glad I continued reading.
Genesis nicely sets up the overall theme of the story in the first act. It uses the tried-and-true favorite of American military stories: “Real men ignore protocol to follow their instincts.” What I found unusual and interesting (though ultimately frustrating) is that the first time Connor follows his instincts, disaster strikes, subverting the theme. Unfortunately, at no other time in the novel does a similar decision turn out to be the wrong one. In fact, Connor is rewarded later in the novel for acting against orders. From there, the theme follows the usual course in the novel.
I did enjoy Genesis by Ken Lozito. It is definitely more of a military science fiction novel and less of a colonization story than I was looking for. But, the next time I’m in that sort of mood, I’ll probably pick up book 2.
In the meantime, my search continues!
If you have any recommendations, please let me know in the comments.