Sunday, August 19, 2018

Book Review: Mecha Samurai Empire, by Peter Tieryas

As soon as I learned that Peter Tieryas has written a second novel that shares the same alternate universe as his previous United States of Japan, I was taken. The first novel had been such an enjoyable read, I immediately looked forward to cracking open this book.

I’ll tell you straight away: I wasn’t disappointed.  Mecha Samurai Empire is a successful follow-on (but not a sequel) to United States of Japan. Occurring a number of years after the events of the first book, it follows the exploits of Makoto “Mac” Fujimoto, an aspiring mecha pilot as he starts from a young cadet and moves into maturity.  The plot is very much character-driven as it follows the main protagonist as he moves towards achieving his goal.  Along the way, we are treated to equally well-sketched out characters whom he allies with, has conflict with, falls in love with, and sometimes, loses. These are after all, the steps into adulthood.

Author Tieryas also demonstrates some admirable world-building skills as he fleshes out the universe he first introduced to us in United States of Japan, where the Axis had defeated United States and Canada in 1948 and divided the Western Hemisphere between them. Since that time the world has been on a knife-edge of conflict between the two former allies. Now as a writer, I believe that showing – providing visual cues, giving us sense impressions, and showing how the characters are reacting to external stimuli, is the strongest form of storytelling and the mark of a mature writer.  Tieryas exceeds in this department. Where small details such as food – which seems to be something of a subtheme in this book – are looked after so you can practically taste it, you can readily accept the bigger picture. 

The novel draws from a number of inspirations, including Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, and the notion of the rebels that Mac encounters that somewhere there is an alternate world where the United States won the war. The character arc of the main protagonist also reminds me very much the one of the best of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic juveniles, Space Cadet, which follow the growth of a boy into adulthood. And that isn’t a bad comparison at all.

Ultimately, Mecha Samurai Empire is a hugely satisfying read. Entertaining and suspenseful by turns it kept me engaged from cover to cover. I am looking forward to the next book, which promises to reveal more about the forthcoming USJ-Reich war. 

Note: This review is based on an advance copy provided by author’s agent.

What’s Next?

I have several upcoming items in the hopper including – but not in any order – a review of the latest book by S.M. Stirling, Black Chamber; a review of the last book in Harry Turtledove’s The Hot War trilogy, Armistice, and a look at Philip K. Dick’s last – and some say most under-rated work, Radio Free Albemuth.

In the meantime, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.