In the Valley by Jason Lambright is a sci-fi military adventure that hits close to home.
It’s 2333, and Captain Paul Thompson faces terrorism in the Baradna Valley far from home on the planet Juneau 3. The crazy men he serves with in his battalion are wild and brutal – will he manage to hang onto his mind while fighting the enemy, and his companions?
The premise of this future world is unraveled slowly, allowing new tech and post-Earth jargon to slowly become natural and accepted by readers, making the premise far more accessible and enjoyable. Many futuristic or science fiction novels suffer from forced or heavy-handed context of the imagined world, which can often feel like the author is offering readers nothing but exposition. Fortunately, Jason Lambright’s masterful book doesn’t suffer from any of these classic stumbles of the sci-fi genre.
Lambright’s long military career has clearly had an impact on his writing, and the way he views the world. He is a detail-oriented and analytical writer, not only concerned with the action on the battlefield, but also the individuals in combat, especially their beliefs, prejudices, histories and desires, lending a thick richness to the narrative that a traditional high-octane sci-fi military novel might overlook. From Paul’s relatable life on Earth and his tough choice to join the military, through recollections of his time in basic training and his dissemination among the stars, a powerful personality emerges – a natural leader, but also man who is not blindly devoted to his cause.
The flow of the novel is slow at times, particularly in the first third, but that is where the majority of the world building occurs, gently sucking readers into the 24th century and all of the history and advancements that have occurred in the fictional centuries between then and now. It is interesting to have flashbacks peppered between the flow of the narrative, as it helps develop Paul as a comprehensive character; readers understand his insecurities and youthful fears, but also feel a deep respect for what he is sacrificing his life to achieve.
The allegorical nature of the novel isn’t well hidden, and it doesn’t seem like Lambright is particularly interested in being subtle. As a military veteran himself, the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are fresh memories, and his power as an author largely stems from the real-world atmosphere he is able to create with his prose.
That being said, much of the main storyline reads like a commentary on violent insurgencies and the subsequent moral questions that arise. The western world, specifically America, is embroiled in the midst of an “alien” world in the Middle East, at least from the perspective of the American people, and that correlation is palpable in these pages. Many of the same issues that Paul must face in his dealings on Juneau 3 – corrupt authorities, flexible loyalties and the moral weakness of his comrades – are the same things that have been reported back from soldiers and commanders in the real world’s current military crises.
The writing itself is intense, without many wasted words, but the sharp descriptions are brilliantly penned and help to transport readers all across the galaxy. The ultimate take-away from this interstellar adventure is that human beings, no matter where they are or what they’ve faced in the past, have inherent weaknesses and failings, both now and in the future. However, brave men and women like Jason Lambright (and his literary proxy, Paul) will always make themselves known and show courage under fire, honor among thieves, and intelligence in an ignorant world.