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Sci-fi Review: ‘Blackcollar’ by Timothy Zahn

Manly men, doing manly things, sometimes in outer space!  Super geniuses, always one step ahead of the game, weaving masterful plans of manliness.  Space battles, ground battles, hand to hand battles, throwing stars and nunchuku.  The evil aliens have kept the humans underfoot for too long; it is time to strike back!  Bring on the Blackcollars, buckle in, and take a wild ride!

Obviously, you have to take this book for what it is, a fairly cheesy space adventure on the lighter side of the sci-fi genre.  The author is probably better known for his Star Wars novels than he is for his original works, but fans of the tie-ins know that he is one of the better writers to do them, for whatever that is worth.  But if you find yourself hankering for a fast paced sci-fi adventure, you may find this one to be a bit smarter than you were expecting, and fairly enjoyable.

Humanity has been conquered by the Ryqril, big leathery, and mean.  Resistance member Allen Caine leaves Earth just before his cell is broken to a planet called Pliny, hoping to find the location of a secret that could change the course of the resistance.  Once there he finds the Blackcollars, soldiers who were enhanced by a now lost drug known as Backlash, giving them twice the strength and speed of a normal human.  From there they must work together to find the hidden secret and strike a major blow against their enemy.

Zahn writes the adventure aspects pretty good, and with action being the main focus this is a good thing.  A common trend in his novels is a genius “chess master” who is several steps ahead of every other character, and in this book he does it with Lathe.  You never quite know where Lathe is taking things; the author isn’t one to drop hints begging you to figure things out on your own, but rather leads the reader by the hand through the entire story.  His adversary (who is not a villain, just a man on the other side of things), is cut from the same mold.  If you buy the premise, the story shouldn’t disappoint a reader, the plot is fairly simple but strong, with a good conclusion that still leaves enough for the next book.

Oh sure there are problems.  Obviously the very nature of the book will keep it from appealing to a large crowd.  It is a little older and not always politically correct, though not egregiously so.  So there are references to “oriental slant” of the eyes, and only two female characters in the entire book (one who was a seductress type).  But I was pleasantly surprised to see people from all over the old earth included, rather than the usually ‘American’s in Space’ common to the genre.

This was not my first time reading this book, I have read most of Zahn’s older library.  While no one will confuse him with the heavy hitters of sci-fi, his books are fun and intriguing, and always have an interesting hook.  I enjoyed this quick little reread and still love this book.  Pick it up for something quick and fun sometime.

3 ½ stars


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