Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book Review – Orphan’s Legacy 02 - Undercurrents by Robert Buettner

Orphan’s Legacy 02 – Undercurrents
Robert Buettner
Baen Books
Publication Date: July 1st, 2011
Trade Paperback (Uncorrected Page Proof)
291 pages
ISBN13: 978-1439134498


As stated in my review of the original Orphanage books last year, and by Buettner’s own admission*, the Orphanage and Orphan’s Legacy series are a deliberate homage to Robert A. Heinlein and two of his classic works of military Science Fiction, Starship Troopers and Have Space Suit - Will Travel. Thank you, Mr. Buettner, for acknowledging the deserving roots of your work and for continuing the tradition of brilliant, character-driven, combat-centric Science Fiction. Make no mistake; Robert Buettner’s Orphan books are by no means simple imitations or variations but significant and important additions to the genre in their own right. Without Starship Troopers there could be no Jason Wander or Jazen Parker and without the Orphans the next generation of military Science Fiction would be considerably weaker. The Orphan’s Legacy series is, therefore, a logical and necessary extension of those earlier works.

With that in mind I ask you to set aside the plot and events of Undercurrents for a moment (we’ll get back to them shortly, I promise) and concentrate on the author in general and the tone of his style and his storytelling in particular. Perhaps it’s because I grew up reading military Science Fiction novels and comics in the late-60’s and 70’s that I now find myself gravitating toward books written with that respectful and patriotic military approach. You know the type of story I mean – character-driven war stories filled with rough, weather-beaten, steely-eyed soldiers with chiseled-jaws and battle-scars who won’t take flack from anyone and who know how to survive in the harshest of environments. Undercurrents not only fits that mold but surpasses it. To call Robert Buettner a Master of Military Science Fiction is, in my opinion, an understatement. Not only are his books well-written, the characters are impossible to forget and their attitudes are flashback reminiscent of memorable characters like Captain America, G. I. Joe, and Sergeant Fury. What this does to - and for - me is difficult to express but there’s a certain feeling of nostalgia that I welcome every time I pick up one of his books. Doing so takes me back to a hot summer day in the seventies when I entered the local library and saw Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers on the shelf for the first time. I could tell by the tattered cover that it involved soldiers in space suits and I was hooked instantly (the only thing that might have made it better was if a dinosaur was on the cover as well, but that’s a different trope for a different time.) I must admit that reading Buettner’s stories takes me back to the days when I was just beginning to explore the various realms of Science Fiction and, in the process, stretching my then small but elastic mind. But I digress…

I promised to get back to reviewing the book and so, now, I will.

What happens when your covert operation turns to disaster and you’re forced to switch from battle-ready to survival-mode in less than thirty seconds? If you’re Lt. Jazen Parker you improvise. While free-falling from space Parker sees his jump-partner’s severed head and spinal column dangling from a crumpled helmet as it whizzes past. With that image burned into his memory he knows he’s been dealt a dead man’s hand. His mission? To destroy the tyrannical local government on a planet steeped in fascist politics. But all is jeopardized by two facts – his partner is now shark food and one of his ex-team members has been taken prisoner by the same government he’s been sent to destroy. And their prisoner is not just any ex-team member but one he harbors deep feelings for. Jazen must complete his mission and save his comrade before she is tortured and killed but as the details of the mission unfolds he discovers a sinister plot that might send five-hundred planetary governments into total chaos. Torn between the mission and the rescue Jazen understands that the local political leaders must be eliminated before they carry out their plan but he finds himself in charge of a broken army of rebels complete with out-dated equipment and jaded, morale-strapped soldiers. What no one realizes is just how committed Jazen is and there is no one better suited to begin or finish a war.

After reading Robert Buettner’s newest book I can only repeat, though in somewhat abbreviated form, what I’ve said before; The Orphan books display everything that’s good about exceptional military Science Fiction. Correction. They contain everything that’s good about brilliant fiction, period. Buettner writes characters that you cannot help but care for, plots that are tightly crafted, real, often gritty, dialogue that flows, and he has a true understanding of how to spin tales that are always entertaining. The guns and explosions and battle-hardened soldiers are simply a bonus for the audience. Spending a few hours with these brilliantly written works of mankind at war is time well-spent.

Orphan’s Legacy 02 - Undercurrents is available today in hardcover. Disclosure: The review copy (uncorrected page proof) used for this review was provided free as part of the Amazon Vine program.

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

 * See my October 2010 review of the Orphanage Series here

* Official Robert Buettner Site
(See Buettner’s website for additional details concerning his tribute to Robert A. Heinlein.)

Robert Buettner Blog Site

Robert Buettner Wiki Page

Orphan’s Legacy 01 - Overkill Baen Webscription (eBook purchase page – Sample chapters available)

Orphan’s Legacy 02 - Undercurrents Baen Webscription (eBook purchase page – Sample chapters available)

Blog Interview with Robert Buettner

Record Freefall Attempt from Space (as featured in Undercurrents)

Heinlein’s Wiki Starship Trooper Page

Heinlein’s Wiki Have Space Suit – Will Travel Page

About the Author

Robert Buettner was born July 7, 1947 in Manhattan, grew up in Cleveland and eventually slid west to Colorado. He earned a B.A. from the College of Wooster, with Honors in geology, then studied as a National Science Foundation Fellow in Paleontology at the University of Cincinnati, earning a Juris Doctorate. He worked in mining as a rig hand and prospector in the Sonora Desert of Southwest Texas and the mountains of Alaska, and worked his way through law school as a petroleum geologist. He practiced natural resources law while serving out his Army Reserve Intelligence Commission as a Captain. He has been writing fiction since 1994. When not writing, he’s run marathons, climbed mountains, snowboarded and scuba'd. He currently lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge north of Atlanta with his family and more bikes than a grownup needs.

Orphan's Legacy Series
1. Overkill (2011) 4 ½ stars out of 5
2. Undercurrents (2011) 4 ½ stars out of 5


Speculative Fiction is much like a child. We feed it and watch it mature over the years, we recognize and teach it to overcome its weaknesses, we strive to perfect its strengths, we are surprised at how smart it is, and, in the end, we hope it becomes better than us. Most of the time, it does.
- The Alternative, 2011


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