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A novel by Bill McCay
(1999, Penguin Books)

Stargate Sequels, book 5

The Abydan colonists defend their camp, and the newly discovered ancient research chamber, against cat-like invaders.


-- First reading (paperback)
August 24th to 28th, 2000


I knew this was a two-star book before I even picked it up.  But I still enjoy the exploits of Colonel O'Neil and Daniel Jackson, and the others. 

The title of the book pretty much sums it up.  At the end of the last book, contact with Earth was lost in the middle of a wave of reinforcements.  The cats which were initially thought of as scavengers, and who had massacred many colonists later, were coming through in waves. 

So the colonists, now armed with more weaponry and explosives, not to mention helicopters and tanks, choose to defend their new settlement against the invaders.  And when they are forced to move out, they defend a new position, made strategically valuable because of the ancient technological treasures that it contains. 

The cats want the treasures.  It will improve their status among the clans.  For they were once servants of the ancient race that spawned Ra, before he took on human form, and before they died out.  I still think the author could have chosen a better description than reptilian, for those creatures.  Reptilian aliens have been done too many times already.  But these reptiles began playing around with the brains of pre-sentient cats, which really made me think of David Brin's Uplift universe, especially since I just finished Brightness Reef before this book. 

As long as the cats were conditioned, and wore the quartz-powered armour, they were strong, intelligent, and very, very fast.  Unfortunately, even with perfect conditioning, many of the cats became unstable.  And that was their major weakness. 

It is not a weakness that I have complaints about, either.  It gave us a chance to see their culture, how they fight, how they treat their own kind, and how they think of humankind.  When the cats become unstable on the battlefield, they must be eliminated, or else they could be dangerous not only to the enemy.

The interesting part of the book came while our heroes tried to figure out the strategy of the cats, and trying to find their weaknesses.  It started out as a straight-out battle, until O'Neil could get the colonists out of the village.  (I knew that the commander who outranked O'Neil wouldn't last long!)  Once they were secured in the treasure hole, it became a war of attrition, and it was pretty clear from the outset who was going to win.  The marines kept worrying about running out of weapons or food, but they never worried about it enough to make me even wonder if they would run out.

Fortunately, one human is passed up for dead when the cats arrive, and he is able to cut off their reinforcements by blowing up the room with the stargate in it.  This guy was pretty funny in the last book, where he had the whole pyramid laced with explosives.  They will have to dig out the gate when they want to go home, but at least he cut off the cats before they had their whole number out.

The cats had them outnumbered a thousand to one, but their numbers kept dropping as either they walked into human traps, or became unstable and were killed by their own people. 

Unfortunately, what won the war was technical gadgetry, of which I was not fond.  Sure, they had to find the right tech, then figure out how to operate it, but it was way too easy, even given the history of the previous books.  At least it didn't degenerate into the gadgetry that Retribution did. 

The book is really laid out like a movie, where incidental characters get to wander into the right area at the right time, do something either smart or stupid, and inadvertently figure out how to make something work. 

The gadget that made stargate holographic communication between the colony on Ballas and Earth is a key case in point.  A technician is bored, scanning a computer console when a schematic appears.  Others get to figure it out, and she asks the computer if it can reproduce the item.  Of course it can.  A marine with hopes of riches happens to be guarding an area of the computer when the circuitry pops out, and he takes it out into the desert, where he is discovered by a Setim.  Distrust begins to mount (I figure this will be a plot point down the road, assuming the series continues for that many books).  But all is well when they decide to put the circuitry in the right spot on the stargate, and it works.  Not only does it work, but the signal is forwarded to the underground complex where the human heroes are holed up.  That way, they have the manuals stolen from Hathor's ship, which helps them figure out how certain gadgets work.

Recall that the giant computer was discovered when Hathor attacked Earth.  It was build by the dog-like Setim (gee, dog-like, cat-like...  what's next?) before Ra betrayed them.  It helped them defeat Hathor and her invincible spaceship.  The Setim were also all but wiped out, but by Hathor, ages ago, except for the ones who were put into suspended animation on the spaceship. 

Anyway, it is fortunate for the story that they don't use any of the gadgets except the communicator and one other.  They discover a matter transmitter, like the one in the Abydos stargate chamber, but much larger in scale.  They figure out how to use it, and make a great trap for the cats, luring them into the trenches using a minimum of people, and lots of logs and bags propped up like soldiers.  Then they activate the transmitter, sending a battalion of the cats into outer space. 

That finally drives the chief cat crazy, and he starts issuing nonsense commands until he is killed by one of his own, the original scout from the previous book. 

There is an effective subplot concerning Daniel and Shauri, when they and a small group are separated from the main group.  They lead the stragglers from shelter to shelter, and organize teams to run back to the village to get food, which the cats won't eat.  (The cats hunt, and run out of food pretty quickly.  Soon the humans become targets.  But the cats won't eat rations, and squat on them, which made for a pretty funny episode in one chapter.)

By the end, I think Shauri wants Daniel back.  I don't think she can forgive him for running off with the seductress Hathor, but she can see that he means well for the Abydan colonists, and her family.

As the book ends, it leaves little doubt about another sequel.  This one was good, and fun, because I like the battle dialogue, and it was organized well.  But I hope the next one is about strategy, not only in war against the cats, but in finally getting the Abydan refugees settled somewhere, so they can rebuild what's left of their culture and society.


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