An Unproven Concept is just like the Titanic movie- if you take out cheesy romance and class warfare propaganda, make the main characters likeable, add aliens and set it in space.
OK, come to think of it, it’s nothing like the Titanic. It does, however, have a "disaster movie" vibe, especially in the first third of the book. We are told at the start that something will go horribly wrong, then are introduced, slowly and meticulously, to the cast of characters that are at once immediately recognizable and entirely unique. Then, as soon as we come to care for everyone and settle in for the ride, the story switches gears, both in mood and pacing, taking us places we sometimes really, really don’t want to go.
The action, once it gets going, is both fast-paced and intricately plotted, with the author clearly making an effort to get all the little details correct. The violence is abundant and graphic, both on an epic "thousands-dead" and personal "oh-no-this person-didn’t-just-die" scale. No one is safe: not women, not children, not people of honor who deserve better. That having been said, the deaths are not throwaways just to up the body count and create shock value, but significant events that affect both the surviving characters and the reader in a profound way.
It is easy in military fiction with high body count to veer towards the nihilistic, especially in sci-fi environment where humans face off against the aliens and come up short; easy to point to the fallibility of humanity, whether in arrogance or in technological deficiency; to conclude that maybe we don’t deserve to survive as a species. An Unproven Concept occasionally skirts along the edge of this line of thought, especially in its darker moments, but in the final analysis unequivocally refuses to go there. While flaws of humanity are mercilessly exposed, so are our better traits. Not every hero wins every battle, not every decision is proven correct, and everyone pays the price. Still, the reader comes out out on the other end feeling inspired by the possibilities of what the best of humanity has to offer, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds.
There is definitely plenty of space for the sequel as the reader is left wanting to know more about the hostile aliens and to just spend time with the surviving characters, but the author takes the time to close out the character arcs enough to leave us with closure. After the intensity of the ride, the detailed winding down of the story is a reader equivalent of getting off a roller-coaster and taking a slow walk afterwards. It feels right, and it leaves us with just the perfect combination of being satisfied and wanting to come back for more.
Recommended for fans of military sci-fi as well as anyone looking for a solid action novel.
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