Ever since the origins of the genre in the 1920s and 30s, American science fiction writers have imagined military conflict between humans and aliens. Amazon lists more than 60,000 books of military SF. To my mind, the best of the lot (at least among those I’ve read) is Joe Haldeman’s 1974 classic inspired by the Vietnam War, The Forever War. The blog The Best Sci Fi Books includes Haldeman’s novel but only as number sixteen in a list of twenty-three. Nathan Hystad’s Resistance Trilogy does not make that list. Nor would I place it anywhere on a list of top-flight SF. The Rift, the opening volume in the trilogy, rests on the premise that an alien invasion is coming, and we even know the date. The novel is readable and engaging to a degree, but it comes across as a rushed effort that lacks depth.
The Rift (Resistance #1) by Nathan Hystad (2019) 303 pages @@@ (3 out of 5)
The alien invasion is coming
Hystad independently follows a half-dozen characters in alternating chapters through the story. Of course, we know their paths will intersect at some point. But that’s a long way off at the start.
- Grand Admiral Jish Karn commands Earth Fleet, which is effectively humanity’s military, police, and government rolled into one. She’s preparing for the expected invasion of the solar system by the Watchers, whom she is convinced will flood through the Rift when it opens on schedule in a matter of months. (Somehow, that happens precisely every thirty years and has been doing so for at least a century.)
- Ultrawealthy Councilman Jarden Fairbanks has disappeared with his immense fortune and is, in the admiral’s opinion, up to no good.
- Ace is a sixteen-year-old orphan living by his wits on the streets of Old Chicago when he chances upon an opportunity to enlist in Earth Fleet and become a spaceship pilot, as he has always dreamed of doing.
- A wealthy-seeming man turns up in a bar on Mars and offers Flint Lancaster, a former Earth Fleet marine turned smuggler, an immense sum of money to rendezvous with his boss in the outer solar system.
- Biological researcher Dr. Wren Sando is confined as a slave laborer to the Uranus Mining Prison for Women, having been arrested for treason and bioterrorism of which she is entirely innocent.
- CD6 is an android prison guard at the women’s prison who has somehow acquired an independent sense of self and is unhappy with the injustice of Wren’s imprisonment and treatment.
A fatal, built-in flaw
The Rift suffers from a built-in flaw. The trilogy is entitled Resistance, its second volume promising Revenge. So, we understand from the first that an alien invasion is coming. War between Earth Fleet and the Watchers is inevitable. Any suspense about the aliens’ intentions is lost at the outset. Which is unfortunate, given that Hystad’s characters are all themselves in suspense throughout the book. War does not break out in The Rift. (If that statement constitutes a spoiler, so be it.) Presumably, the war between humans and aliens will get underway in the second volume, which I do not intend to read.
This is not hard science fiction
This novel is not hard science fiction. Hystad ignores reality in three crucial ways:
He has repealed the law of gravity
Although the action unfolds on board spaceships, on Mars, and on numerous moons and asteroids throughout the solar system, there is never any mention of gravity. Yet we know that spacegoers will have to devote considerable resources to combat weightlessness in space and the low gravity of the inner planets, the moons of the gas giants, and the asteroids.
He ignores the challenges of hyperspeed in flight
Hystad also seems to assume that some miraculous but otherwise ignored technology will enable spaceships to travel from the inner planets to the outer reaches of the solar system in a matter of a few days. He ignores the fact that the Kuiper Belt (where some of the action unfolds) lies forty Astronomical Units, or about four billion miles, from Earth. (That’s roughly 16,000 times as far as the Moon, which is only about a quarter-million miles from us.)
To travel to the Kuiper Belt in, say, six days, would require a spaceship to speed outward at nearly twenty-eight million miles an hour (28,000,000). That’s a little less than seven thousand miles a second, or roughly four percent of the speed of light. At that speed, as I understand it, any spaceship would become dangerously vulnerable to even tiny particles of dust. And relativity is not my strong suit, but I’m inclined to think that at that extraordinary speed the passengers and crew on those spaceships would experience time dilation. Which, incidentally, is also ignored in this novel.
He imagines the United States will still dominate the world in the 24th century
OK, so Hystad didn’t pretend to write hard science fiction. But he also portrays a future centuries ahead in which Earth Fleet is commanded by Americans. There are no Nigerians, Arabs, Indians, Chinese, Brazilians, or Indonesians in The Rift. It’s naive for anyone to believe that in the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth century, or whenever this book is set, the United States will still be running the show. Assuming that the human race is still around—itself a shaky assumption. At some point, we North Americans have to face the fact that “white” of European heritage people are a tiny minority in a world largely inhabited by people of color. And it is foolish in the extreme to imagine that the hegemony of the West will survive even the twenty-first century, let alone for hundreds of years into the future.
And why would we assume that an alien invasion is coming?
For a novelist it may be convenient to build a story around a war with extraterrestrials. But why would we take for granted that such a thing might happen? To my mind, it seems foolish to assume that an alien invasion might be on the way. Why would presumably intelligent and highly advanced extraterrestrials capable of interstellar flight deign to invade the solar system? Why would they pay any attention to us at all?
About the author
Canadian author Nathan Hystad has written numerous books of science fiction and horror as well as thrillers. I would like to think that other examples of his work are better than The Rift, but I’m not inclined to invest the time to find out. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, with his wife.
For further reading
The best example of military science fiction that I’ve come across is The Forever War (Forever War Trilogy #1) by Joe Haldeman (This classic science fiction war novel won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards).
For more good reading, check out:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus 100 runners-up);
- Seven new science fiction authors worth reading; and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.