by Jim McCoy

Welcome to the last day of Jimbo’s Memorial Day Weekend Extravaganza 2021, where I honor our fallen by honoring their buddies who wrote Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. Yes, I am aware that Memorial Day is to honor our war dead, but I’m not aware of anyone who was KIA and also wrote a SF/F novel. If anyone knows of an author in that category tell me, especially if the royalties go to any surviving family. Our Gold Star families deserve any help we can give them.

Today though, we honor Shane Gries. Shane originally enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1989, before going Regular Army in 1994 when he was commissioned as an 0-1 after attending college on a ROTC scholarship. He’s served Stateside, in Germany, Korea, Afghanistan and Australia. He is a bird colonel (0-6) Infantry officer who has been awarded the Expert Infantryman Badge, the Basic Parachutist Badge, the Ranger Tab and a Bronze Star. Right now he’s doing diplomatic duty as the US Army Attache at Canberra, Australia. He has gotten to play with some really cool toys in his time in. He’s worked with the M113A2 Bradley APC and the M2A2 Bradley IFV, as well as a boatload of communications and small arms. 

He’s got a wife, two kids and no pets. His kids are grown now. He’s been a lifelong fan of SF/F and dreamt of writing since he was a kid. He’s planning to write full time after he retires and I think he’s off to a great start.)

Ya know, it’s been a LOOOONG time since I read a book all the way through at one sitting. Before I met the ex-wife I used to do it all the time. It became a norm for the release of new Battletech novels. (So did going to work tired the next day, but I was working in a grocery store, soooo… yeah.) I’m not sure what the last time I did it was, but it would’ve been sometime between when I met Nicole in 2002 and when I married her in 2004. That is, until this weekend. I went through Shane Gries’s From the Ashes of a Dead World in like three or four hours on my day off. I only stopped once and that was to use the bathroom. Honestly, I’m kind of bitter that I had to stop that long, seeing as I only had thirty pages left, but…

Ah well. No system is perfect.

But From the Ashes of a Dead World comes pretty close. It took me a bit to warm up to it, but that’s normal for an author I haven’t read before. He has his own style and that’s a good thing, but it just wasn’t one I was used to. Once I knocked the first ten pages or so down though, I was off and running. I just couldn’t put it down. 

Remember Star Wars? Like the movie actually named Star Wars. The kids like to call it “Episode IV,” but us old school types know better. It was the first episode, whether you young whippersn…


Anyway, imagine a story starting like that only it was written by someone who had spent a lifetime studying military tactics and went on for long enough to REALLY get you sucked in. That’s how FTAOADW starts. Like, we’re in the fight pretty much off rip. The action lets up about the time that Amazon asks you to review the book because you’ve finished it. Along the way, we get our heroes, our villains and our outright monsters and that’s all just in the first few chapters.

I like the way Gries sets up his society. It makes sense. The military exists to defend a society that doesn’t always do the right thing. Some of the decisions made by the nobles in the book (The Interstellar Protectorate is a constitutional monarchy) quite honestly deserve infamy preceded by a tail-kicking but that makes sense. Every society has its entitled class and members of the entitled class always want more than what they have coming. That’s whether the individual’s attitude of entitlement comes from being born a noble or from collecting welfare. A belief in the right to take from others to maintain oneself is part of the human condition. 

So, quite frankly, is the overweening sense of ambition seen in some other members of the society. The chief villain of the piece is a real piece of work, but in a way I’m glad to see him. There’s nothing I enjoy so much as an evil villain to hate on and Gries has done his work there. Of course, his ambition brings him into conflict with other ambitious people and there is conflict. There are actually several conflicts. 

There’s more to it than that though. Many of the people (and a lot of the military) are solidly good people. Many of them sacrifice more than they should be asked to. That, unfortunately, is probably the most common condition among members of the military that I’ve come across in my study of military history. The fact that so many answer the call so readily is what makes them worth celebrating. It’s not spoiling too much to say that many of the military types Ashes don’t make it. War causes casualties.

Combat in Ashes goes from deep space to dirtside. It’s all well thought out and easy to follow. Gries’s description of deep space combat is less technical than some others, but for those of us who don’t do orbital mechanics as a hobby that’s a good thing. His description of a fighter squadron sounds a lot like any workplace I’ve been in that has long term employees, although a bit rougher than some. That’s to be expected though, because it IS the military. Gallows humor and a bit of irreverence are common among people who risk their lives and are around death a lot. The only setting where you might find more dark humor than in a military unit is in an emergency room staff and the reasons for such aren’t that dissimilar.

Really my only complaint about Ashes is that it’s a little too short, I would’ve preferred just a bit more to the story but that’s not the worst thing ever. I mean, Gries left me wanting more and I guess that’s how it’s supposed to work. I still think that maybe the denouement (LOOK EVERYBODY!! I USED A SCHOOL WORD!!!) was a bit more rushed than it needed to be and there could have been just a touch more suspense in spots. Then again, it’s not like I ever got bored and I’ve already purchased the next installment in the series, so it should be fairly obvious that the story wasn’t killed by brevity. Maybe I’ve just read too many David Weber novels and gotten too used to nine thousand word infodumps. Possibly. 

And I guess one of the reasons that I’m so looking forward to reading the next one (after I finish reading the other two books for my event) is that it was so short. There are an absolute buttload of things I’m still wondering about. Granted, a lot of what I’m wondering about is what comes next, but there are still holes in the backstory that can be answered in further books. I guess it’s too soon to call for a prequel series so I won’t. I’m totally not saying Gries should write about the rise of the Interstellar Protectorate or how the war that brought it down got started. I’m just saying I’d buy it if he did. I’d probably even review it here. But, like, no pressure and I’ll sit down now.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Pursuing Spaceships

This article was originally posted at:

Books by SHane Gries

From the Ashes of a Dead World

The defeated survivors of an interstellar war seek refuge on a long-forgotten planet, only to discover a human civilization with the industrial development of mid-20th century Earth—and which itself is embroiled in a brutal world war. Should they strive for peaceful coexistence or domination?

From the Ashes of Interstellar Empire

The planet Renas is a world populated by humans with 1950’s-level technology. It is surrounded by a fleet of starships, crewed by human beings from a far-flung system who are refugees from a bloody interstellar war. Both sides are locked in a deadly struggle to determine the fate of this isolated world.