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Portals, Portals Everywhere: Into the Looking Glass by John Ringo

After a mysterious explosion annihilates the University of Central Florida, the world is in an uproar. After believing it was a terrorist attack, the U.S. government soon discovers that it was actually a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong. Now there’s a crater where the high energy physics building once stood, and a whole lot of unanswered questions. It gets even weirder when the black globe hanging in the middle of the crater starts spitting out alien bugs. And that’s before they discover the other portals popping up all over the place, each opening to…somewhere else. Now the Earth is being invaded by aliens, and they’re not at all friendly.

Who do you call? William Weaver, the world’s most awesome physicist, that’s who. With a poker hand’s worth of Ph.D.s and the athletic build of a young god, he’ll outthink and quite possibly outfight the problem. If that fails…well, he’ll think of something.

No, I’m not exaggerating. Dr. Weaver, or Bill, really is presented as capable and versatile as suggested. The only way he could be even better would be if he was secretly Buckaroo Banzai. Of course, he’s about to have the “traveling through strange dimensions” thing down pat….

The major problem (aside from the alien invaders) is that the initial gate at the UCF is generating Higgs boson particles, and those in turn are opening gates to other worlds. Some are uninhabited wastelands, others are inhospitable yet useful, but most are downright hostile. Once the bugs and rhino-tanks and dog monsters start pouring out, it doesn’t take long for us to realize we’re under invasion, and it’s time to stop playing nice. Even as Weaver and his colleagues work to close or redirect the gates, the Army, National Guard, and every redneck with a gun handy are all engaged in a losing battle against the unstoppable alien forces from beyond the gate.

And then the cat people show up, claiming to be on our side. But they may not be as trustworthy as they seem, especially when links between them and the first aliens surface. Luckily, a third race, the Adar, make themselves known. Just like that, everything really gets messy. With gates still opening all over the place, and the bad guys gaining beachheads on our world, it looks as though the only solution might be to just kill us all. But hey, what’s the potential destruction of the Earth among friends?

Into the Looking Glass is the start of another popular series from the bestselling Ringo. While future installments were all co-written with fellow Baen author Travis S. Taylor, this one’s a solo effort. As usual for Ringo, it’s a solid effort.

The concept itself is ripe with potential. Portals that can either link us to other worlds, or be used to provide cheap and easy instantaneous travel? Good start. The idea that some of them link us to hostile alien worlds, and others to races who might be allies? Still good. The suggestion that some of the portals lead to Lovecraftian nightmares so far beyond our normal understanding that our minds shatter on impact? I’m in. I can’t complain about the wealth of stories this can inspire.

The central series of conflicts starts off fairly mundane: it’s Us versus Them. They send bugs, we shoot them. We deploy tanks, they deploy fire-spitting rhino monsters. They send in battle worms the size of Wal-Mart, we start nuking stuff. And then we start inventing armored combat suits, an old science fiction favorite and something Ringo clearly digs as much as the rest of us. This, of course, leads to lots of action scenes interspersed with military jargon and scientific babble, which is about as authentic and plausible as one can get under the circumstances. (Though an author’s comment claims that some mistakes in the science are intentional for security, and others are unintentional.) These are all known strengths where John Ringo is concerned. He delivers top-notch military SF, with such fervor and devotion that you can just hear the troops cheering him on. Perhaps it’s a little dense for the casual reader, but that’s a risk you have to take sometimes.

Luckily, it’s not all about one group of beings trying to kill another. When Ringo brings in races like the Adar and the Mreee, he introduces enough variables to make things unpredictable. It’s not the most complex of political maneuvering or double-dealing, but it helps.

This book is not without its flaws. Or perhaps we should just accept that Ringo has Certain Quirks, and accept them. I’m not here to say who’s right and wrong when it comes to political leanings or worldviews, but it’s certainly disconcerting to see a very thinly veiled President George W. Bush reacting to the emergencies with calm, panache, and competence. Obviously, this is an alternate universe, so draw your own conclusions. There’s also an odd moment near the end where aliens are basically allowed to wipe out the mujaheddin of the Middle East, before nukes are brought to bear against the problem. Sure, this book came out in 2005, when tensions were riding high, and no one likes terrorists, but it still feels like a rather blasé way to handle the situation. There’s no doubt about it: Ringo’s not ashamed to make his opinions known. (And that’s all I’ll say. If you pick this up, be warned that opinions skew towards the right wing, and aren’t terribly subtle.)

On the bright side, there’s a slightly increased female presence in this book, as compared to A Hymn Before Battle. Besides the never-named Condoleezza Rice acting as National Security Advisor, there’s a little girl who mysteriously survives the explosion, and Robin, a programmer who exists mainly to say useful things while swooning over the hero and inspiring him to come up with the answer to a problem. Oh, and then there’s the female cat-like alien who acts as initial ambassador for her people. I can’t say that it’s a spectacular representation, but it’s got to be worth something…right?

Let’s face it: John Ringo’s very good at what he does. Into The Looking Glass, like his other works, is action-packed, heavy on details, and has a fascinating premise. Whether or not the above flaws detract from the overall appeal is entirely up to the reader’s willingness to buy into the mindset and accept the attitudes of the author as expressed here. Read at your own risk, but be prepared to enjoy yourself more than you should.

Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Roanoke, VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who occasionally steals whatever he’s reading. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at Schrodinger’s Bookself


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