Grunt Life by Weston Ochse
Earth has been invaded and the insect-like Crays have established secret hives across the world. The only thing standing between Earth and domination by these creatures are the Grunts, men whose business is soldiering.
But this time they must learn how to defeat a very different kind of enemy from any human foe.
Last year I read Seal Team 666: Age of Blood by Weston Ochse and enjoyed the non-stop action and supernatural adventure. When I heard that the same author was going to take on the end of the world, and would be adding a liberal dose of aliens to boot, I couldn’t help but be intrigued.
The premise is pretty straight forward. An imminent alien invasion has been discovered and a clandestine organisation, known as Task Force OMBRA, are planning our planet’s response. The only problem? Who should be part of this group? What are the best qualities for a soldier facing off against an entirely new kind of threat?
Made up from men and women from all over the globe each team member has been individually selected due to the nature of their pre-invasion experiences. They are a fascinating group. Primarily, we follow a new recruit called Mason but I don’t really want to dwell on any of the characters. You need to come at this story without too much information about anything. Part of the joy of this novel is that sense of discovery and realisation. When the penny drops and you have that moment where everything clicks into place, you can thank me later. I suspect giving away any detail about the characters would act as a massive spoiler and I’d never want to do that. Suffice to say who each of the grunts were before the alien’s arrival, and what lead them to join the ranks of those fighting back, is a key component to the novel’s main theme.
The Cray themselves remain an enigma throughout much of the narrative. This mysterious nature makes them appear almost invincible and their actions keep humanity on the ropes for much of the novel. They have taken time to observe and learn everything they can about how we live. Due to the Cray’s meticulous research, any retaliatory action that the human forces make turns into nothing but a horrendous meat grinder. The numbers of casualties sustained are astronomical and the outlook for the human race appears bleak.
Essentially, the reader gets to view this particular alien invasion from the frontline. There is little time spent on strategy and how the politicians and generals are dealing with the attack. This is a novel about those at the very bottom of the chain of command, the foot soldiers, those forced to confront the unknown menace head on. It’s made clear fairly quickly that the sole purpose of these grunts is to fight and, most likely, die for the cause. They have one single job, delay the enemy for as long as is possible. Give the scientists valuable extra time to form a more meaningful response to the alien aggression.
Grunt Life has a darker tone than I think was initially expecting but it’s all the better for it. There is a danger that things could have descended into an exercise in nihilism but Ochse deftly avoids this trap. I’ll admit there is no denying that events are often quite bleak, but don’t ever be in any doubt there is most definitely meaning in the actions of these introspective characters. Also, just as importantly, there remains the tiniest sliver of hope. It would be so easy for characters to just give up, to roll over and accept defeat; they are facing what appears to be insurmountable odds after all, but they don’t. They choose to keep fighting, keep slogging on. As a war of attrition starts to develop, slowly but surely, the human forces begin to successfully fight back. What’s that popular phrase? Things are always darkest before the dawn. Seems entirely appropriate in this case.
Often, in fiction, I think there is a tendency for authors glamorise war. It’s understandable to a degree, authors want to make events appear more exciting and action packed for the reader. Not so in this case. If anything, Ochse does the polar opposite. This is a warts and all approach to military science fiction. Nothing is sugar coated and this refreshingly honest approach provides the opportunity to explore the full cost of war. This isn’t some squeaky clean sanitised Hollywood take on human versus aliens, this is a down and dirty, no holds barred, street-fight. This first Task Force OMBRA novel charts humanities’ grim determination for continued existence. The title really couldn’t be more apt if it tried. It’s a statement of fact – this is a Grunt Life.
Grunt Life is published by Solaris and is available from 29th April.