The Clone Republic – by Steven Kent

General Robert E. Lee is reported to have said to his staff officers while reviewing the wreckage following a Confederate victory, “Gentlemen, it is good that war is so terrible, else we would love it too much.” For most of us, war is seen primarily through the lens of popular motion pictures and literature, and to a lesser extent via cable and network news. Many of us seem to have a fascination with things military, and such movies and novels often do well commercially and critically.

The fascination, I think, is two fold. First are the “toys” of war: the weapons, tools, and transportation. These seem to cross all historical boundaries. Part, or perhaps most, of modern military fiction seems to revolve around the mechanics and technology of warfare. The Hunt for Red October introduced many of us to a new glimpse of how modern submarine warfare is a combination of strategy and technology. Bernard Cornwall’s Lt. Sharpe of the Napoleonic wars introduced us to the gritty details of fighting men and muzzle loading rifles in savage battles on foreign soil, where the ability to load and fire more quickly than your opponent turned battles as often as cunning and strategy.

The other fascination is with the inner conflicts of the characters caught in these dramas. Often, the conflict is between civilian and military life, as new recruits are turned from schoolteachers or plumbers into skilled marksmen willing to kill, and die, for their cause. Sometimes the conflict is between ranks, or social classes. The most fascinating conflicts for me revolve around ordinary decent people caught up in brutal combat having to resolve the moral issues of war on a personal, intimate level.

Science fiction has also developed a sub-genre of military SF. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers was fun, campy read, although the movie based on his novel turned into an excruciatingly painful viewing experience for me. I think they tried to be campy, but didn’t quite reach those heights. It was exceeded in boredom only by Gods & Generals, 3 hours of butt-numbing revisionist southern history.

Steven Kent has written an interesting first military SF novel that mines some new territory in The Clone Republic. There are no aliens in the galaxy occupied by humans in the not so distant future. The military depends on ranks of specially bred clones, who don’t know they are clones. This warrior class is in conflict with both the civilian world, who depend on these expendable clones to conduct their wars, and their civilian rulers and military commanders, who are not clones. And to make it more intriguing, the clones are all bred to see that the rest of their platoon may be clones, but they view themselves as different and unique. Should they discover their clone identity, they are killed by the release of a toxic hormone, before they can spoil the neatly ordered society of the United Authority.

Except for Wayson Harris, a private in the UA marines. Wayson knows that he is different, even while his background and actions seem to indicate that he just might be a clone. As a reader, you get to follow his journey through increasingly bloody engagements and promotions, while learning some truths about himself. He encounters hatred and attempted assassination by some in the ruling class, harassment and prejudice by many of the officers he serves under, and a growing disgruntlement with his status as a unique “orphan” soldier in this clone army.

In Wayson’s galaxy, as in ours, man is his own worst enemy. Wayson has to deal with incompetence in his government, corruption in his commanders, the growing realization that he and his fellow soldiers are completely expendable, and finally some gut-wrenching realizations about his own nature.

This is an enjoyable read. I do hope that in the sequels, Wayson has to confront some of the deeper moral issues of this universe of clone warriors (something George Lucas never really dealt with in his Star Wars universe). It’s mentioned that one of Kent’s clone warriors does worry about whether clones have souls, and what is their status if God really exists? However, this question is not really answered, and Wayson jumps from one battle to the next with brief interludes where he confronts the rulers and citizens of this universe modeled after Plato’s Republic.

I found the action believable, with a mix of 20th century weapons and the occasional 23rd century particle beam weapon, poison gas that conveniently also does away the bodies of it’s victims, and space craft called battleships, destroyers, and carriers, with fighters and interceptors named after 20th century aircraft, such as Hornets and Falcons. The mix of familiar with the futuristic allows us to fill in the blanks and use our imagination to picture a future where man still battles against man, even in the outermost reaches of our own galaxy. I look forward to some deeper insights into Wayson’s psyche and moral core in the sequel, Rogue Clone.

(Author’s note- I wrote this review about a year ago, and since then Rogue Clone and Clone Alliance, both sequels to this book have been published. Kent has completed writing a fourth book in the series, and a fifth is in the works at this time)

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