Ray Gun Reviews
SF/F reviews — and ray guns!

Shadows of the Past by Tom Kolega

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Shadows of the Past by Tom Kolega
State of the Art Entertainment, 2009, 365pp.

It’s no secret that I’m a media tie-in junkie. I love reading in shared universes that are based on video games or movies or comics. Back in the days of Deep Magic, we had a shared universe called Kenatos. It was so much fun that I even tried my hand at a story set there. Unfortunately, because I’m such a slow writer, the magazine folded before I finished my story. But it was exciting.

So, when Tom Kolega offered me a review copy of his first book in the Contra Alliance universe, I jumped at it. While not technically a shared universe, Mr Kolega’s Contra Alliance universe is planned on being available in multiple media. Please note that this is not a novel that is being transported to comics and the screen, but that it has been planned from the beginning to be in multiple media, so it feels like a shared universe in many ways.

The Contra Alliance universe is set about twenty years in the future when America is no longer a world power. The globe is on the brink of total chaos. Resources are scarce. And from all this rises a group known as the Revolution whose agenda is not entirely known, but they keep on disrupting what little peace exists. Rumor has it that they have a genetic laboratory hidden in the Colombian jungles where they are conducting clandestine (and obscene) experiments. NATO sends in one of its Counter-Revolutionary (CONTRA) teams to investigate. Even though the team is heavily armored with the latest (and slightly SF) tech, they barely survive when the Revolution’s genetically engineered warriors attack.

Meanwhile, the Revolution is staging an all-out attack on Jerusalem while the world’s attention is turned to the Middle East for the tenth anniversary celebration of the Holy Land peace accords. CONTRA rushes in and fight the Revolution’s forces in a battle that will forever change the world, for unknown to most of mankind, the Revolution is actually the minions of the Nezdeth, an alien race that is intent on ruining the earth.

The plot is much more complex than this brief overview has given, but to reveal more would be to spoil some of the surprises that make this a fun and exciting read. Shadows of the Past is the first book in the first of two planned trilogies of novels in the Contra Alliance universe, and it is a real page turner. I cranked through the book in just a few hours. It is an adventure novel through and through and the story promises future installments to be even more action-packed.

The one downside I found, though, was that the characterization suffered a bit for the sake of the action. Kolega has created a cast of nearly two dozen main characters just for this first novel, with more CONTRA warriors slated for subsequent volumes. Although he does a valiant job at trying to develop some of the characters, for the most part, the majority are reduced to some key character traits, much like in large-ensemble comic books. However, those characters that Kolega does focus on are fairly well-rounded and conceived.

But, like I said, this is mostly an action/adventure novel. If you approach it wanting more, you’re not understanding the genre. My suggestion is to dive in and just enjoy the breathless pace. Unfortunately, this is just the first volume, so you’ll be left wondering how long until the next volume. (But to tide you over, there’s a comic planned for later this summer.)

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