The Plague Forge

The review of Jason M. Hough’s Dire Earth trilogy concludes with a retro review from September 24, 2013.

Review: The Plague Forge, Jason M. Hough, 2013.Plague Forge

Yes, there is a trip to the Plague Forge, source of the nasty, dehumanizing SUBS plague that has killed billions. And that trip, a set-piece of the book, exhibits Hough`s strengths and weaknesses as a writer: plausible characters whose sometimes surprising turnabouts are plausible in retrospect, well done combat scenes, and escalating tension undercut by sometimes confusing and boring descriptions of the constantly altering structures of the alien Builders.

Hough starts out with a slam-bang opening – an operation to retrieve one of the alien keys from armored subhumans around Bellem. The rest of the book, rather than covering years as does the preceding volume, The Exodus Towers, mostly takes place over just two weeks of globe-hopping in North America and Africa as well as the usual locations in Brazil, Darwin, and space. Things climax in a way that just feels a little bit too neat of a gathering of all the major parties

The structure of the novel is very much like a computer game. There’s a treasure hunt for various alien artifacts – they’re even rather geometric objects like computer icons – which cause, for reasons not entirely explained, the Builder Key Ship to react with “ecstasy”. The explanation for the Builders’ actions and technologies is even delivered in a chapter that reminded me of one of those video clips that rewards you for completing the level of a computer game. While that explanation is not entirely satisfying in the hows or whys of the devastation the Builders have wrecked on Earth, it is at least given. Hough, though, definitely leaves plenty of dramatic potential open for sequels involving a new crew of adventurers.

The book, in places, could have used some tightening. For instance, the phrase “inverted pyramid” is repeated quite a few times when describing the Plague Forge.

Make no mistake. Not all the major characters are going to survive this book, and Hough, again in keeping with characterization and pacing being his greatest strengths, makes you feel emotion at almost all the deaths.

On the whole, though, I confess to being somewhat disappointed at the conclusion to a trilogy which started so strongly, and I’m not sure I will read, if they are written, any future books in this universe.

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