The Terrans by Jean Johnson (Book Review)

Towards the end of last year, Jean Johnson brought her Theirs Not To Reason Why military space opera series to a close in a grand fashion with Damnation, the fifth and final novel in the series. In this series, she introduced an amazingly detailed setting where our hero was a psychic soldier who takes on the entire known galaxy and reshapes it to battle a menace that no one else could even fathom. It was a fantastic series and by the time I was done reading it, I wanted to read more. But the series was done, and all that was left was the promise from Jean that this year we would go back in time to the First Salik War, the interstellar conflict that put Earth on the big stage and which ultimately segued into the events of Theirs Not To Reason Why.

The hero of The Terrans is a former regional politician named Jacaranda MacKenzie who is selected to be the political ambassador of humanity’s first deep foray into the rest of the galaxy, as the United Planets Space Force launches a massive first contact project on the back of several precognitive visions experienced by numerous powerful psychics. Yep, psychics affirming a first contact mission. We know from Jean’s previous series that this setting is populated by numerous psychics of various abilities, and that is something that she does a great job of in this new series, introducing us to many of the pros and cons of such people, especially within the context of a first contact mission.

The novel begins innocently enough, when recently retired Councillor Jackie MacKenzie is asked to come and meet with the highest officials of the United Planets government on a top-secret manner. We learn that several powerful psychics across the United Planets have been having visions of first contact with alien races and that these visions hint at both peaceful encounters and violent ones, against all sorts of alien species. And there is even the hint of a major conflict on the horizon, something that could have some serious consequences for the people of Earth and the other worlds of the Solar System. So the United Planets government, on the recommendations of these psychics and the Space Force, agrees to launch a massive exploration mission to initiate the “prophesied” first contact with these species, to reach out to the other sentient races of the galaxy as and when possible. But all is not as it seems, and very soon, Jackie’s crew finds itself in the thick of things, having to deal with events they have no standard operating procedures for, making things up on the fly, and effectively bungling their way through it all.

What I both loved and somewhat disliked about The Terrans was the detail of the world-building. This is something that I expected, having read Jean’s previous series, but I was still surprised at the amount of detail that the author packed in for this one. At times, it was fascinating to read all the cultural and military stuff, especially when the author went down into the minutiae of it all, but other times it didn’t jive so well for me because it was too much. And there were even a couple times when some information, or a series of events was reiterated and the pace of the story really slowed down.

The action in the novel is relatively low key. This is a first contact novel, and as such most of the time is spent navigating life on Earth, life in space, and meeting with two different types of aliens. As such, you can expect a lot of cross-cultural stuff here as we learn how the Terrans are different from the V’Dan and how they are all different from the Salik and so on. There are several surprises throughout the novel and they can often throw you for a loop (in a good way of course), so there’s never much of a dull moment at least. Jean keeps you on your toes, and the cultural differences between the Terrans and the V’Dan are definitely among my favourite bits of the novel.

Where Jackie is concerned, I very much warmed to her from the get go. You might expect with both Jackie and Ia (the hero of Theirs Not To Reason Why) being psychics that the story arcs might be kind of similar and that the characters themselves might be similar to each other, but that’s not how it all works out. While Ia had a very particular suite of skills, owing very much to her birth and other special circumstances, Jackie is much more “run-of-the-mill”. Her psychic abilities are nowhere near the same level as Ia’s, nor are they as diverse, but all the same, she stands out as someone who can very well match Ia in other areas, especially her moralistic values and determination and goals and integrity. And what’s more is that Jackie isn’t rigid about these things, but is fairly flexible. That’s definitely something to appreciate.

Perhaps the most important part of the novel is how Jackie navigates first contact between her own people and both the V’Dan and the Salik. From the very first moment that she and her crew encounter both races, and right down the final moments of the novel, we see her competency for the job shine forth, and also how it affects her as a person. She is someone who learns from her experiences, who adapts to shifting circumstances, and who still comes out of all of it with a positive and optimistic mindset.

Something else that might get lost in the shuffle is how Jean addresses several real-world cultural and social concerns such as same-sex relationships, governmental corruption, religion, misogyny and racism. These are concepts that we ourselves live with everyday and often throughout the novel Jean uses these concepts and these topics to further inform the reader how this futuristic Earth society has dealt with all of them and come out of it with laws and social mores for the betterment of the entire society, the Terran civilization as a whole. Bigots and manipulative opportunists are everywhere, but it is in the way that they are dealt with that provides the real learning lessions in The Terrans.

Overall, I’m quite happy with this novel. It is not on the same level as the books from the Theirs Not To Reason Why series, but it does have a few things to recommend itself, and I would definitely recommend it to you if love military space opera. The Terrans is intended to setup the next novel in the series, The V’Dan, and it does a pretty good job of it too, I think, and I for one am really excited to read that, though that won’t be for like another year or so.

Rating: 8.5/10

More Theirs Not To Reason Why: A Soldier’s Duty, An Officer’s Duty, Hellfire, Hardship, Damnation.

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Posted on September 1, 2015, in 2015 Reading Challenge, Book Reviews, Challenges, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. sounds like a good read … will definitely give it a shot!

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