Review: Collateral Damage

Publisher Description:

Destructive Battles Rage Between Hellish Kaiju and Giant Mech Protectors

A desperate father must rescue his son when a deadly kaiju rampages across his city.

When opportunists lurk and buildings crumble around him, the battle might be the least of his worries. Each minute means more destruction, and the clock is ticking.

The first in a new kaiju series where the ordinary collides with the oversized, Collateral Damage is based on a short story of the same title originally published in Broadswords & Blasters Magazine. Experience the first taste of this series with a punch to the gut. Mind the shadows — you could be crushed.

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Review: Collateral Damage by Adam Furman

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Collateral Damage. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions (You can request a review here.)

This review contains minor spoilers.

Collateral Damage is a high-speed science fiction thriller about a father’s battle to save his son, underfoot of a kaiju/mech battle for humanity’s survival. This first installment of the series is a wild ride of paternal determination and an intense mashup of the ordinary and the fantastic!

Aggressive Pacing

While Collateral Damage begins with a simple premise: a father of a broken family doing whatever he has to in order to be with his young son. Initially, the goal is to pass an apartment inspection in order to get visitation rights. The common situation provides a moderate amount of tension, stemming from the relatability of the father-son relationship.

The initial obstacles are likewise of the everyday sort, but the situation quickly goes off the rails. When a kaiju attacks the city and his son is unaccounted for, DeShawn hurdles into an epic quest to find him and keep him safe. He meets with one problem after another, but never gives up.

Furman does an exemplary job of utilizing the “yes, but / no, and” storytelling technique. The consistent complications deny the release of tension, pushing the drive of the story even harder with every event. Furthermore, DeShawn is impacted physically at every turn – a tactic reminiscent of Jim Butcher – which continues to amplify the suspense.

Present Tense

Reading a story told in present tense can take some mental adjusting if you aren’t used to it (generally, it is more common in short stories than genre fiction), but in Collateral Damage, the style is used to further emphasize the immediacy and build the suspense.

The effect is one of careening into the unknown. It is not unlike a Crash Bandicoot game in which the character runs full-tilt towards the screen; the player is perched on the edge of his seat, reacting to problems seconds after they appear and trusting that there is a way through to the finish line and to victory.

Biting Visuals

The fast pace and intense emotional investment do not prevent the setting from making an undeniable impression. Images, such as driving a blue convertible through a mech’s legs as it battles a giant monster overhead, stick with you.

Some of the descriptions are quite graphic, emphasizing the “collateral damage” occurring while the battle rages above. The destruction, violence, and even gore further contribute to the rising tension by reducing the control the reader perceives the main character as having.

But it also casts some thematic threads.

Timely Theme

The story works off a simple premise, and the central theme reflects that. The importance of a father figure and the desire for a whole and loving family are threads that lead to the payoff, the feel-good ending the reader craves like water after a gut-wrenching race.

However, there is another theme, more timely than timeless.

There are political events occurring in the world that are intriguingly similar to our own current events. Zenith, a communist group of zealots works to overthrow the mechs, the force established by the government to defend the people.

Zenith has occupied part of the city, obstruct roadways, accost ordinary people on their way home from work, steal and kill, and take advantage of a bad situation to further their own goals. However, they have some valid concerns, including the blasé acceptance of the damage caused and lives lost as a result of the mechs’ battles, and the impunity of the mech pilots for their behavior. Most people seem to love them, though, and watch their battles as a kind of entertainment.

In this situation, DeShawn is once again painfully relatable. He does not mindlessly embrace the mechs, forgiving the carnage and rejecting all criticism of them, and so he is himself rejected by others as “anti-government.” One character even goes as far to call him a monster for his mere opinion. However, he also cannot accept Zenith who stole his wallet, appropriated his apartment, and killed the people he approached for help. As a result, he is labeled a “patriot” by them.

Collateral Damage

He, like so many people in the Western world today, finds himself in a no-man’s land, disavowed by opposite ends of the spectrum as the enemy, and denied the opportunity to find common ground with either of them due to the labels they are so quick to brand him with. He represents the “collateral damage” in this political and cultural war.

The thematic arc resolves with DeShawn’s conclusion that he is happy that the mechs exist. This is not a surrender of his inhibitions regarding them, nor an inconsistent, emotional response to his rescue. It is a nuanced discernment of the good and the bad, one that has been denied to him throughout the story.

I am reluctant to pin any particular, deeper message onto this thread, any call to action regarding our own world’s politics. But the story clearly cautions against the adoption of an “us vs them” mentality, and the satisfying ending is really only possible because DeShawn lets go of some of his own judgement towards his ex and his father, enabling them to become a whole family instead of one divided against itself.

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Collateral Damage is an exciting kaiju thriller with a breakneck pace that will keep you up late reading it and thought-provoking themes to mull over for days afterwards! I am looking forward to seeing where Furman takes this series.

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Review: Combat Frame XSeed

Publisher Description:

The future is over. 

Civilization on Earth has collapsed. Oligarchs have established a new order in manmade space colonies at the Earth-Moon LaGrange points.

A group of powerful colonies form the Systems Overterrestrial Coalition to re-civilize the earth, but grounders view the colonists as hostile meddlers. The Coalition counters the rising violence with giant manned robots called combat frames.

The independent L3 colonies denounce the war on Earth. In response, Coalition Security Director Sanzen takes L3 leader Josef Friedlander’s wife and daughter hostage. Amid the tense standoff, Friedlander’s son Sieg launches an unsanctioned rescue mission to L1’s Byzantium colony.

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Review: Combat Frame XSeed by Brian Niemeier

Here on the Periapsis Project, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Combat Frame XSeed. I encourage you to check it out!

Brian Niemeier revitalizes the mecha tradition in Combat Frame XSeed, a gritty action novel that blends mecha anime and military science fiction to deliver high-energy combat alongside thrilling intrigue. The dynamic combat frame designs turn dogfight combats into scintillating gladiatorial displays, and political subterfuge threatening to crush the heroes keeps the drive high. An exciting opening for the trilogy!

This review contains minor spoilers.

Mecha Combat

Niemeier has asserted that he intended to move beyond the tired Eastern and the bleak Western aspects of the mecha genre, integrating the best of both in a refreshing return to what makes the mech so appealing. The result is a bold blend of military maneuvers and one-on-one duels, mass-produced combat units and showy customized ones, guns and swords – or any other close combat weapon.

The action sequences are gripping. Early in the story, it is established that there are no guaranteed outcomes, and the combat frames consistently take serious damage or are lost entirely, which kept me on my toes. This made the second half of the novel particularly engaging, when the coordinated attacks gave way to one-on-one combat. These showcased more unique combat frames, weapons, and tactics – leaning into the mech aesthetic more.

Unfortunately, there are not as many antagonists as there were protagonists piloting combat frames. This resulted in many battles against a deluge of mass-produced models, although there is still variety in the execution. It also necessitates the near omnipresence of Metis, the most formidable antagonist combatant for the majority of the story. Still, the manifold multifaceted battles were gratifying.

Mech Design

Mech design is arguably the most important aspect of any entry in the genre. Niemeier does not disappoint in this regard either! The combat frames are varied in form and style, and come armed with all kinds of weapons from over-sized machine guns to plasma swords.

While many of the combat frames are a sort of standard military issue, these do change over the course of the story, so that even the fights against the generic baddies become more difficult as the technology improves.

However, the true pleasure lies in the custom combat frames. These come in a myriad of colors, wield multiple cool weapons, and are under constant repair as they give and take damage. But they also have more of the “organic in the inorganic” design elements that are so iconic to mechs. Instead of descriptions of mere machines, elaborate though they may be, the custom combat frames begin to take on auras of their own.

For example, when Ritter first sees Zane’s custom combat frame Dead Drop, it “carried no visible weapons but exuded menace like a coiled mamba.”

My personal favorite is Jean-Claude du Lione’s custom combat frame: a CF Veillantif. I found the descriptions of its garish design, coupled with its dueling capacity aesthetically pleasing:  “He fought to stifle a scream when a gothic monstrosity of bronze and burgundy crouched down beside the singed hole in the wall and leered at him with a giant, gargoyle-like head.”

Intrigue

An important element of Western military sci-fi – and, of course, present in Western applications of the mecha genre – is intrigue. Combat Frame XSeed applies this technique creditably, using multiple factions with conflicting agendas as its basis. The differing goals, secret meetings, betrayals, information leaks, red herring leaks, and more hype up the tension.

True to political intrigue form, it is not clear in the beginning who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are. Even the two generalized groups – the grounders and the Coalition – are divided and not all the major players have clear motivations. However, Niemeier does not leave us in such bleak ambiguity. As the plot ramps up, disparate factions and characters unite in purpose, and the moral issues around the conflict make it easier to break down into good and evil.

Of course, there is still an element of uncertainty at the end. Not everything is explained, and I wonder if there isn’t information that the reader lacks, sustaining the mystery and incentivizing read-through for the trilogy!

Characters

Combat Frame XSeed does struggle a bit under the weight of so many point of view characters. It can get a bit confusing when changing between them, especially when that switch comes mid-chapter, and the impact of any one of them is diluted.

That being said, I did not find it too difficult to track who was who. I did not even have to reference the “Principal Characters” annotated list at the beginning, although it is a nice resource. It was a tad intimidating to see it sandwiched between “About Combat Frame XSeed” and the Glossary before the story started, but, again, it was needlessly so.

This can be attributed to Niemeier’s skill at quickly developing sympathetic characters. As the cast grows, it does not become bloated with people you don’t care about.

If I had to identity a singular main character, I would point to Ritter, who begins the story as an outsider joining the EGE and ends as a hero. But in keeping with the anime tradition, there are multiple quirky characters that could stand alone in their own right. From Maximus Darving, a software engineer with a weirdly affectionate relationship with his custom A.I. Marilyn, to Zane Dellister, a crazy guy who built a combat frame from scratch using stolen parts, the characters populating Combat Frame XSeed are captivating.

Check it Out!

Combat Frame XSeed is an entertaining execution of the best elements of the mecha tradition: compelling fight scenes, grandiose robot designs, and thrilling intrigue. Whether you are a long-time fan of the giant robot tradition or interested in them for the first time, this is a must read!

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