Cover image of "The Anatomy of Courage," a new alien invasion story

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Christopher Walters is a trauma surgeon in a place where life itself is traumatic. He carries the nominal rank of captain in the United States Army in southern Siberia. There, the Americans are attempting to hold firm on the Western Front in a war with the Novos, the strange extraterrestrials who crash-landed near the city of Novosibirsk, which gives them their name. Because the Novos can detect even low-level electricity from a great distance, human forces can employ no machinery or electronics. The aliens wield lightning bolts to destroy anything moving and hurl huge boulders against the lines. The war is now fought much as it was in France and Belgium in World War I, with both sides dug into trenches facing no-man’s-land. There are no tanks, no airplanes, no drones, no smartphones. And it’s a nightmare for Doc Walters. This is Peter Cawdron’s provocative new alien invasion story.

Bitter cold, boredom, and sudden terror

Doc is on his first rotation to the Front, assigned to Delta Foxtrot 3 Squad, known as Dog Food Squad. The squad’s assignment is to follow troops who go “over the top” into no-man’s-land to attack the Novos. There are always casualties, and it’s Dog Food’s job to tend to them. Well, Doc’s job, really. The soldiers are there to keep him alive and ferry the wounded back to the forward base where they can be treated. Thus, Doc’s life has been reduced to long, long stretches of bitter cold, stinging rain, wet socks, miserable food (often rats), and seemingly unending boredom—until the boredom ends and the terror begins, as Dog Food, too, goes over the top.

The Anatomy of Courage (First Contact #26) by Peter Cawdron (2024) 361 pages ★★★★☆

Photo of British soldiers in a trench in World War I like the fighting in this new alien invasion story
The author consciously modeled the trench warfare in this novel between humans and the Novos on the experience of World War I on the Western Front. Here, British soldiers await orders in a trench there. Image: Imperial War Museums

It’s all boredom and terror—until suddenly it’s not

Much of the story here is set within the trench where Dog Food Squad is assigned. But that comes to an end, as the story suddenly veers in a new direction when Doc comes face-to-face with the Novos for the first time. And that’s the pivotal moment when the story arcs upward—and we begin to learn more about the aliens who seem to be intent on conquering and transforming the Earth. There are surprises in store for the reader. Lots of them.

Grappling with the deeper questions

The title The Anatomy of Courage does double duty here. It’s the working title of the book Doc is preparing to write, as he records his daily observations of the soldiers in Dog Food Squad and his probing conversations with them. It’s also a guide to one of the deeper themes in the novel. Because author Peter Cawdron digs more deeply into his characters’ thoughts and feelings here than is the norm in science fiction, including his own.

Doc grapples with the big questions. What makes one man “good” and another “bad?” What is “evil,” and how does it differ from what is not? And is war hell—or worse? In fact, why do wars happen, and how do they end (because they always end)? Cawdron adroitly explores these and other themes. The Anatomy of Courage may be the most ambitious effort among the twenty-six books to date in his First Contact series.

About the author

You’ll find a bio of the author at Peter Cawdron’s insightful First Contact book series.

You’ll see all the books in this series of standalone novels at Peter Cawdron’s insightful First Contact book series. (This new alien invasion story is not the first such tale in the series, but it’s very different from the other one I reviewed.) And check out The five best First Contact novels, Great war novels, and Great military science fiction.

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