Huvek, by James L. Steele – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Huvek, by James L. Steele
Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, July 2014, trade paperback $19.95 (247 pages).
(Publisher’s advisory): This is a mature content book. Please ensure that you are of legal age to purchase this material in your region.
“Loy emptied his clip, ejected it and crouched below the wall as he yanked another from his vest and popped it in. He braced himself on the sandbags piled midway up the wall for a firing platform, stood up straight and started shooting again.
His entire battalion was firing into the line of massive reptiles from behind the city’s defensive wall. They had previously succeeded in clearing the Kesvek out, but now the reptiles were coming back and they had never looked more intimidating.” (p. 5)
In an interstellar future, a spreading humanity first met another sentient life form, the massive reptilian Kesvek, over forty years earlier. The Kesvek immediately started killing all humans. They were not interested in negotiations. Humanity abruptly found itself being annihilated from its hundreds of newly-settled frontier worlds.
“A Kesvek was nearly indestructible, even without his armor. The reptiles carried no weapons and advanced as a single wall of solid scale and brute muscle. The massive claws on their feet and hands were known to pierce solid metal. They preferred hand to hand combat, so the strategy was to keep them as far away as possible. Spraying them with gunfire would kill them eventually, but as the line of red, green, white, yellow and blue scales ran closer, Loy began to feel the first hints of dread.” (ibid.)
Humanity has been at war with the Kesvek for over forty years. Thousands of human worlds have been lost. Billions of humans have been killed. But at least humanity knows how the Kesvek fight by now. They distain all weapons, throwing away those of the human soldiers they overrun to tear humans apart with their bare claws.
Which is why Loy is so chilled when the Kesvek troops that he and his battalion are fighting suddenly produce guns and begin firing back.
That’s not the only unpleasant surprise that the humans find.
Huvek begins as a dramatic but depressing, despairing s-f dystopia. Billions of humans across the galaxy have been slaughtered. There are never any survivors. Nobody knows what the Kesvek want besides humanity’s annihilation. All attempts to learn more about the Kesvek have failed. Now it seems that the Kesvek are not killing humans efficiently enough for their own satisfaction. A few Kesvek are killed every time they steamroller over the defenses of a new human world. As a result, the Kesvek are reluctantly forced to start using human-type weapons in their attacks.
Chapter 2 begins with Loy – Sergeant Lloyd Kursk – waking up, nude, in a sealed room alone except for an equally nude Kesvek soldier. What happens would be a spoiler to describe, but the dialogue reveals that the humans and Kesvek do know a bit about each other. At least each others’ language, and there have been a few futile peace discussions over radio. The fact that a nude human soldier and a nude Kesvek soldier have been brought together by an unknown third party implies that both are being manipulated by an unsuspected power stronger than either.
Loy and the Kesvek, Yrrha, are alone for months. Loy is eventually freed by the human armies, and returned to off-duty military life while he is debriefed, and a psychiatrist tries to determine whether he has been brainwashed by the Kesvek. But what about whoever or whatever captured both him and a Kesvek? Were Loy and a Kesvek really captured by a third party, or was it all a Kesvek setup for some unknown reason? Has Loy really learned anything about the Kesvek that humanity doesn’t know, or is it all brainwashing? The title, Huvek, is a combination of Human + Kesvek, but what does it really mean? Has Loy become closer to “The Truth” or farther from it? Should Loy try to tell anyone what he has learned, or is he spreading Kesvek propaganda?
A lot more happens, including Loy going to the Kesvek worlds. But the questions remain the same. What is ultimately happening? Is Loy discovering “The Truth”, or is he being manipulated? Who is really behind what is going on? Will the humans or the Kesvek win? Or neither/both?
Amidst the story, Steele presents a number of unusual concepts of the future of human society, such as the continued use and spread of old-fashioned books.
“Another reason for the rise of the printed word, which Loy had read on the civilian database between sessions with John [the psychiatrist], was physical books were far more durable and easier to transport across the long reaches of space than anything digital.
Movies required projectors, sound systems, large rooms, dark conditions, etc. Music required special players that broke easily and were susceptible to cosmic rays. Books required none of these things. No players, no risk of breakage, no erasure during transport due to one of the many rogue EM waves careening through the cosmos. It was far cheaper to read than watch a movie on the colonies. The printed word was king in the stars.” (pgs. 108-109)
Some of the action in Huvek seems inconsistent. After Chapter 1 appears to describe the Kesvek as so unknowable, Chapters 2 and following seem to establish too many little details that both know about the other. And then, in Chapter 30 (forgive me for giving away a spoiler):
“A dozen armored Kesvek stood in single file. A dozen armed human soldiers in formal military dress stood in an identical line facing the line of Kesvek. Loy stood at the entrance door gazing down the gap between the two lines, facing them in single-point perspective.
Standing just out of line in the no-man’s-land between the two sides was the base’s commanding general.” (p. 138)
Technically, these are not inconsistencies as much as new information being revealed to Loy and to the reader. But “we lied to you earlier” isn’t much more satisfactory, and there are still minor inconsistencies in the background that should have given away to someone that what appears to be going on isn’t entirely accurate. Maybe the average grunt is that stupid, but there are an awful lot of grunts in a whole army.
Huvek is too emotionally cold to be a completely satisfying read, but it is a good intellectual puzzle. The cover by Purplepardus is – confusing.