The IX is, basically, an entertaining military sci-fi novel, with some time travel elements. An alien race, it’s civilisation collapsing under the weight of screaming monsters known as ‘The Horde’ hits upon a desperate plan for survival, and begins transporting “suitable candidates” from Earth to fight the horde and preserve what’s left of their legacy. As a premise, it has its roots in the classic military sci-fi of the seventies and eighties, with shades of works like Pournelle’s Janissaries or King David’s Spaceship. It may not quite hit the high bar set by its antecedents, but it’s still an entertaining read.
From a plot point of view, the focus is on the cross-temporal group of humanity brought to a new world. They’re a mish-mash of soldiers, warriors and their antagonists, from across human history, and into the future – from Roman legionnaires through to Eco-terrorists and the team sent to apprehend them. This mix of cultural viewpoints and mutual antagonisms has some promise, but doesn’t deliver as far as it might. Faced with the ravening alien Horde, the group largely bands together for mutual protection, and the simmering tensions are mentioned near the start of the book, and quickly forgotten. This actually works, in service to the circumstances drawn by the plot, it was just a shame to see such a great source of conflict brought up briefly, and then ignored. That said, there’s a whole host of other conflicts waiting in the wings, as the narrative gets rolling – which I won’t spoil here, but do provide several surprises.
There’s a fairly vast cast of characters as well, and they’re functionally done, though again, somewhat in service to the plot. We do get some glimpses of depth, especially from the leader of the Legionnaire’s, and from the leader of the anti-terrorist team, so the reader isn’t totally left with ciphers – however, it would have been nice to see a little more of other characters. We do get a view on another pair, as they attempt to go on a vision-quest across time and space to gain understanding of their circumstances. This, again, sounds odd, but it’s written well enough that it actually works – the mystical bent doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the text, but the descriptions are done well, they push the plot forward, and we learn more about these two characters through their shared vision experience than many of the others, It’s a bit different in tone to the rest of the text, but certainly serves a purpose, and is an interesting read.
The main focus of the text, though, is in the battle with a relentless enemy. With securing the redoubt in which the humans find themselves. In exploring the world of the aliens that summoned them there, and discovering what horrors befell that civilisation, why it happened, and what they need to do to survive. There’s a lot of warfare here, using equipment from a variety of periods, and a lot of tech-talk as characters return various pieces of technology to use. And it’s all very well written, and seems to be accurately drawn as well; the battle scenes are epic, compelling, and had me turning pages to find out what happened next. The exploration, the sense of camaraderie amidst tension, was also very well evoked, and left me wanting to read more. The description of the world is excellent – clean, descriptive prose, giving imagery that dazzles and terrifies in equal measure.
With all that in mind – The IX is a good military sci-fi novel. It has a lot of potential, and it lives up to most of it. There’s some minor flaws, but they in no way spoiled my interest or level of entertainment. If you’re going in looking for a book in this specific genre, then this is going to serve up a good portion of what you’re looking for – excitement, gunfire, tactics, heroism, villainy, mystery, wonder; it’s all here. If that sounds like what you’re looking for, this is worth the read.