On vacation in 2006, I wandered into a Barnes and Noble to look for something to read. Near the front, I saw a book on a stand called The Clone Republic by some guy named Steven Kent. I’d never heard of him but the cover looked good and a quick scan of the first chapter drew me in. I’m afraid my wife probably has unpleasant words for Mr. Kent. I spent way too much time reading and way too little time hanging out with her.
The Clone Elite is the 4th book in the Clone series (Republic, Rogue Clone, and Clone Alliance preceding). Taking place in 2512 A.D., humanity has spread itself throughout the galaxy using technology known as the Broadcast Network. The Unified Authority, based on Earth government has forsaken democracy for the principles of Plato’s Republic with three societies – citizens, military, and political. Clones, raised by the millions in orphanages, form the bulk of the military and are lead by natural born (i.e. – non-clone) officers. Each clone is genetically identical, incapable of disobeying orders, and, should they ever realize they are a clone, will die instantly.
Wayson Harris is a clone, but unlike the others, he knows it. He is a Liberator clone, an unstable model that was banned due to past tragedies. Though he’s a bad-ass on the battlefield, Harris has a knack for being caught in the middle of things when they go bad and he’s forced to confront enemies even among his allies.
The Clone Elite finds Harris back in Hawaii, a frequent stopping point in the earlier novels. He’s come a long way since Republic. He’s more world weary and frankly, at a low point in his synthetic life. At the conclusion of Alliance, Harris left the Marines, having grown disgusted with the way natural born officers use clone soldiers as little more than fodder. Unfortunately, a visit from an old friend forces him back into the Marines under the Elite Conscription Act.
Aliens, former allies of the foe Harris defeated in Alliance, have invaded and are quickly conquering every plant in their way on a straight march for Earth. The U.A. decides to make a stand on the planet of New Copenhagen in a bid to buy time. Unlike the rest of the series, Elite takes place on a single planet. This allows Kent to develop good suspense when Harris and his companions are cut off from the rest of the universe in the midst of the alien invasion. Like the previous books, it’s told from Harris’ point of view and his limited information adds to the tension.
As well as fighting aliens, Harris is forced to confront his own demons, realizing how and why the Liberators were banned. He begins to see worrying signs as the clones buck their neural programming. Kent does an excellent job of pointing out that even in the face of impending doom, man is petty and fallible. We see this through the squabbling of generals and the actions of a commanding officer, willing to sacrifice an entire platoon to rid himself of a single troublesome clone. The majority of the book takes place on a single planet, unlike the rest of the series which has more galaxy hopping. This allows Kent to develop good suspense when New Copenhagen is cut off from the rest of the universe in the midst of an alien invasion.
There’s a bit of a mystery, plenty of conflict (both on and off the battlefield), and though I’ve never spent time in the military, I think Kent has the dialogue between soldiers down pat. He does an excellent job of blending in the unfamiliar and explaining it in a way that seems easy. Elite continues Kent’s cynical look at warfare and how the politics of it are handled, though to a slightly lesser extent (perhaps on a more personal level with Harris and his commanding officers). The finale of Elite leaves a great deal open. Per the author’s blog, he plans on writing more books including some on the Japanese Fleet and Navy Seals, an action hinted at in the last pages of the book.
That is not to say the book is flawless. Some characters strike me as flat (typically those in the upper echelons, but maybe that’s military for you). The greatest thing that bothered me actually came out of the Appendix. Kent mentions the fate of one character (no spoilers here) and how he wanted it to be different. Even before I picked up the book, I had a feeling something would happen. After reading the story, I have to say I agree with the author’s gut feeling.
Nonetheless, The Clone Elite has everything I’ve come to love about the series. Fast paced action, incredible combat scenes, a wide range of interesting characters (even among the supposedly ‘identical’ clones), and most importantly, a great story. If you’re a fan of military sci-fi, pick up the series. You won’t be disappointed.