Thu
Jan 26 2012 10:00am

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

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

This article is part of Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Picks: ‹ previous | index | next ›
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21 comments
chicodude
1. chicodude
Three John Ringo articles in a week? Jeez Tor.com.

I know it's military science fiction week, but how about some shout outs to some classic military fantasy, like Glenn Cook's The Black Company?

I'm surprised you folks are giving so much space over to Ringo fluffing.
Ben H
2. dripgrind
Personally I find Ringo a little too left-wing. Maybe we could have some reviews of Baen's other delightful military SF, like Caliphate by Tom Kratman:

"Demography is destiny. In the 22nd century European deathbed
demographics have turned the continent over to the more fertile Moslems.
Atheism in Europe has been exterminated. Homosexuals are hanged, stoned or crucified. Such Christians as remain are relegated to dhimmitude, a form of second class citizenship. They are denied arms, denied civil rights, denied a voice, and specially taxed via the Koranic yizya. Their sons are taken as conscripted soldiers while their daughters are subject to the depredations of the continent's new masters."

http://www.baenebooks.com/p-748-caliphate.aspx
Glen Simmons
3. Macfanaticus
Pretty good review, but I find it ironic that one of your main complaints is Ringo's right-wing bias, yet it's ok for you to imply that President Bush is incompetent.
Herb Schaltegger
4. LameLefty
Hey I played this game when it was called Half Life . . . Substitute UCF for Black Mesa and William Weaver for Gordon Freeman and voila.
Ty Margheim
5. alSeen
Why do reviewers feel the need to warn of right-wing leaning views in books, but you never see warnings about left-wing leaning views.

Here's an idea. To avoid alienating readers of this site, many of whom are conservative (shocking I know), try to keep political digs out of your reviews (re: the Bush comment).
Russ Gray
7. nimdok
I read the first book in the "Oh John Ringo NO" series (actually the first half of the first book) and can't read any of his other stuff. I don't mind writers who keep their political opinions in the open but his (as I gleaned from the first half of the book I read) are a little too fair and balanced for me. This book sounds like it fits into the same mold.
chicodude
8. Total
Pretty good review, but I find it ironic that one of your main complaints is Ringo's right-wing bias, yet it's ok for you to imply that President Bush is incompetent.

If that's left wing, then (wait for it!) the truth has a left wing bias.

Here's an idea. To avoid alienating readers of this site, many of whom are conservative (shocking I know), try to keep political digs out of your reviews (re: the Bush comment).

How about something else? How about they write the review that accurately presents their opinions and you kiss their a**? (obviously, not speaking for Tor).
Steve Allan
9. Lastyear
Never got far enough into Ringo to find a right wing bias. Just found his writing skills to be terrible.
john mullen
10. johntheirishmongol
When this book came out, I was working at UCF so it had additional meaning for me. I was trying to figure out if my house was included in the explosion or not. I wondered if Ringo lived in my area, or just grabbed a decent map and used that for his discriptions.

@7 If you cannot take Ghost as fun fantasy, sort of an upgraded Don Pendleton book, then you probably should avoid most adventure stories. Think of it as a modern version of the Executioner, with sex added.

I have to agree that a lot of the columnists here seem to feel the need to warn you about a book leaning to the right politically, but you never see the same when the book leans the other way.
Michael M Jones
11. MichaelMJones
@1: Tor didn't choose the Ringo-related books, our friends over at Barnes and Noble did. For whatever reason, Jim Killen decided that these books were all representative of military SF, and the assignments were thusly doled out accordingly to cover his picks. I'm sure that someone will tackle The Black Company series at some point, since it's clearly a fan favorite and repeatedly requested. Heck, I've never read it, maybe I'll give it a shot one of these days if no one else does.

@3, 5: You got me there. I do apologize for my political blinders. I need to keep in mind that while I find some of what Ringo expouses to be fairly "not really my thing," a heck of a lot of people either agree whole-heartedly or think he might be a little mild. After all, the man sells a lot of books. Much more than me. :) I'll work on it. (No promises on my opinions of any or all past American presidents. I have my favorites, and it all comes down to which ones I think can successfully wrestle reptiles and punch evil in the face. Possibly while time-travelling. But I'll try to keep that out of the reviews as well.)

@10: An interesting phenomenon, indeed. I think someone who's not me, and is much better informed, should start working on a Politics in/and Science Fiction essay. After all, it's an election year....
Ty Margheim
12. alSeen
To be clear, I have no problem with discussions of politics. Some books you can't discuss without politics entering into the discussion.

My problem is with unnecessary "humorous" political digs and the assumption that people need to be "warned" of political views that are different than what the reviewer believes in.

There was a Star Trek episode review that unnecessarily threw in a dig at Fox News and had nothing to do with politics at all.

When I tell people to read Iain M. Bank's Culture novels, I don't warn them of the left wing view point.
chicodude
13. nathanbp
To the people complaining about the note about right wing viewpoints: Have you actually read any of John Ringo's books? I will admit that I am a liberal (although I have enjoyed many of his books), so perhaps it stands out to me more, but it is one of the first things that comes to my mind when describing his books for recomendations to friends. He is certainly much more over the top about it, in ways that mostly seem unneccessary to the plot, than I can recall seeing in either way in other books I have read.
chicodude
14. AlBrown
It seems like some people on the right like to complain that anyone who doesn't make Attilla the Hun look like a pinko has a liberal bias. I used to consider myself an unaffiliated moderate, but these days, I see from the viewpoints expressed on Fox News that I am more of a wild-eyed commie sympathizer. For example, when the Heritage Foundation came up with it, and Republican governor Mitt Romney pioneered it, I thought the individual mandate was a good, free market alternative to government provided socialized medicine. Now I find that it is a threat to the continued existance of the republic.
I like the point made above by Total @8.
chicodude
15. chicodude
Tor didn't choose the Ringo-related books, our friends over at Barnes and Noble did.

So, does B&N decide all the content on Tor.com? Is this basically a B&N site?

As for Ringo and his right wing views, my distaste for him goes beyond his political leanings. From what I remember of my partial read of 'Ghost' (the last book of his I started), the protagonist seduced under age girls and flat out raped a woman. That's when I quit reading his shit.
Michael M Jones
16. MichaelMJones
@15: Scroll back up to the top of this page. There, you'll see a link to "Barnes and Noble Bookseller Picks." Follow that, and it explains that
"For over a decade, Jim Killen has been the driving force behind Barnes & Noble’s remarkably well-chosen science fiction and fantasy sections. Now Tor.com is partnering with Jim for a series of appreciations, the “Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Picks.” Each month, Jim will curate a list of science fiction & fantasy titles, which various Tor.com contributors will then explore."

So no, B&N does not decide all of Tor.com's content, nor is this a B&N site. They just give us the list of books they want to promote and/or draw attention to, and we have fun with it. Sometimes we're looking at new releases, other times we're looking at older stuff. No sinister conspiracies here, just a bunch of contributors talking about books, sparking conversations, having fun.
simon
17. simonk1905
@ #4 LameLefty I was thinking exactly the same thing.

What's next for Ringo?

Aperture?

Glados?

Lets face it most stories have been tried before in one way or another and so I am betting there are people out there that can point out the inspiration for half life. So I will give Ringo and break.

I might give this a go as having been left cold by the atrocity archive when I was looking for something like this to read maybe this is more up my street. Despite the political machinations of the author. (come on people this is a novel not the capitalist manifesto) and that goes for the reviewer too.

Please review the book and leave the unjustifiable leaps of prejudice to the rest of us.
chicodude
18. John Biltz
#15 You dropped a writer because one of his characters raped a woman in one of his books? Think about that for a moment. Stig Larson did worse, did you abandon the Millenium series. Ringo has characters and they are all different. He also has Iron Mike in the Posleen universe who has remained celibate decades after the death of wife. You are making the mistake of identifying the author with his characters. Now if you say you don't want to read books with Ghost in it, I can understand that, he is not a nice person, says so often and repeatedly and then goes about proving it. Ringo has a series I don't read also because I just don't like them and I can understand someone not liking the series. I generally skip all the sex when I reread the Ghost books. He also has several series I will read and reread the crap out of it. There is no rape in this book or series, there is very little sex in the whole series and it is off camera. I really don't see what Ghost has to do with a discussion of this book and series, he isn't in it.
chicodude
19. Bill White3
I have always found that glossing over a writers political views, especially a great writer like John Ringo, is just fine. Do I agree with Ringo politically.....NO. But I really do enjoy all of his books.
Richard DeLotto
20. rickdelotto
Interesting... did you guys stop reading Shakespeare when you found out he was a monarchist, and not a progressive? The world is full of good writers I do not agree with politically, and I figured out real early I could skip over the parts I do not like.
The whole point behind Ghost is that he is unlikable-by-normal-people, just a wild hair shy of being non-functionally crazed by PTSD and other psychological damage. He makes no claim of being a good guy. I suspect much of the problem many partial-readers have with him is that he refuses to see himself as a victim, passively waiting to be rescued by Authority.
Keep reading (many of the books are available for free downloading, something Baen pioneered), it is beginning to look more and more that the keldara are a collection of matriarchal clans. Anyone not finding strong central female characters just hasn’t read far enough.
John Hardy
21. screwtape
Funny, how many people commenting on this site say they won't consider reading John Ringo because of his 'Oh NO, John Ringo' series (the Ghost novels) or won't touch his fellow Baen author Tom Kratman because he's a 'neo-nazi'.

(The disgust for Tom Kratman, as far as I can tell, is based on a surface reading of the blurb for his Posleen universe novel Watch on the Rhine. The fact that he posits the last survivors of the Waffen SS being rejuvenated to form the core of the German 'last ditch defence' legion is apparently enough to gain him this label on this site. Never mind the fact that actually reading the book would show that it is in no way, shape or form a tribute to nazism - if anything, the last remnants of the Waffen SS are being allowed to die to save the rest of humanity as a final act of redemption for their crimes.)

And yet, how many of these same people will refuse to read anything written by Anne Rice -- her wildly popular novels about the vampire Lestat, or her philosophical novels, or her Christian literature -- because she once wrote the Beauty trilogy and Exit to Eden, which all make the sex in Ringo's Ghost series look like Puritan propaganda? I suspect not many.

Before anyone replies to this, I should declare my own 'political' bias: I'm Canadian. I also voted for the New Democratic Party in our most recent federal and provincial elections. For American readers, as near as I can tell, the NDP would be considered to be so far to the 'left' on the American political spectrum that the Democratic Party would barely be visible sinking below the horizon on our right; the Republicans would be somewhere on the other side of the globe completely.

Despite this, I enjoy reading both Ringo and Kratman's novels. Even if I don't (obviously) see eye-to-eye with them on political issues, I find both raise points that merit serious consideration. On a pure reading level, the action in their mil SF novels is generally excellent, and Ringo's Portals series, in particular, is a hoot. Ringo is one of the few SF writers I can think of offhand who routinely writes 'exploration or warfare on exotic planets or in outer space' where the equipment functions realistically - i.e. it was designed and built by boondoggling contractors and acts accordingly. In fact, equipment failure and its consequences seems to be a regular plot point in his novels, including especially this series.

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