Book Review: Genre: WW1 meets SciFi
On November 1st 1916, 900 men of the 13th Battalion Pennine Fusiliers vanished without trace from the battlefield. Their fate has been one of the enduring mysteries of the First World War.
The official story is that they were all lost when a massive German mine was detonated, causing the half-mile wide Harcourt Crater.
The real story is far, far stranger.
I was poking about my local library when I spotted a trio of black-covered paperbacks on the shelf. A brief look at the striking cover art and intriguing backcover blurb and I was immediately sold.
The idea of a group of fighting men being transported to an alien world is not a new one - Pournelle/Niven's Janissaries and Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen immediately coming to mind - but as far as I know the protagonists are usually either from the remote past or plucky Americans. Black Hand Gang is unusual in that the stranded squaddies are British Tommies from the Somme trenches. A Pals Battalion from the North of England, to be precise. That makes this book a little easier for me to relate to.
The book starts with the 13th Bn preparing for an attack, introducing us to a variety of characters that would be instantly familiar to anybody else who grew up reading "Charley's War" before the mists of battle clear to reveal an Alien planet.
Not, sadly, the Elysium the Tommies initially think it is. More of a Hellworld full of vicious predators and man-eating plants.
While the Fusiliers are still trying to get used to that, the other intelligent life on the planet makes itself known and the book moves up a gear to an action-packed climax.
I was very impressed with Black Hand Gang. Pat Kelleher takes an idea that's been used before and puts enough of a spin on it to make it interesting. The story takes a while to hit it stride but the necessary scene-setting doesn't drag and the dazed reaction of the Pennines to their new surroundings was, I thought, really well done. Liked the punchup at the end too.
There's two more in the series. I have them sat on my shelf back home and I'm looking forward to reading them.
The author has a webpage here: https://nomansworldblog.blogspot.co.uk/
I wonder how many people stumbled across it and thought they'd found a genuine WW1 mystery?