DARKMATTERS - The Mind of Matt

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Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Matt's Trouble Dog Interview (& Embers of War review)

The Embers of War Trilogy and Trouble Dog Interview

Gareth L Powell (@garethlpowell)

Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@Cleric20)

Here we are then – assessing the Embers of War Trilogy (and a funky prequel short entitled ‘Waiting For God Knows’ which you can access if you sign up to Powell’s supporter Adventures in the SF Trade) 

I came across these books when someone told me that they’d found a worthy successor to the late, great Iain M Banks – creator of the ‘Culture’ novels, a one-time candidate for the Mad Bastard Party in Scotland, and who is to this day one of my very favourite authors.

‘Surely not’ I thought but damn if they weren’t right – Powell writes uber-cool sci-fi populated with sentient spaceships, warring human and alien factions and a host of galaxy-spanning mysteries. I dove into the first book ‘Embers of War’ and fell in love. Here is not just a worthy successor (who is handily still alive to write more) but an author who has taken up the ‘champion of cool sci-fi’ mantel and delivered big time on it.

If you’ve read any of the 3 main books of the trilogy: Embers of War, Fleet of Knives, and Light of Impossible Stars, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And if you’re yet to experience them – then I’m actually envious of the joy you have ahead of you!?

Waiting for God Knows – an Embers of War short story

“If any of us short circuits, I reckon it’ll be you, Trouble Dog. You’re practically human already. It can’t be long until you start feeling guilty for killing so many of them.”

This is a quick read that takes place before the trilogy. It features the lead spaceship Trouble Dog and gives some background to her relationship with her siblings. It’s a prequel, set during the last day of the Archipelago War, in the moments before the bombing genocide that Trouble Dog and her kin were involved in.

Gareth says: “For those of you who’ve read the books, I hope you enjoy revisiting these characters, and seeing them in their ‘normal’ lives, in the final moments before the fateful mission whose outcome changes everything and directly leads to the events of the trilogy.

And if you haven’t read them, maybe this will whet your appetite…”

Waiting for God doesn’t need to be read before the trilogy, in fact it carries more resonance when you know the fates of the assembled Carnivore-class heavy cruisers, Anubis, Fenrir, Coyote, Adalwolf, War Mutt and Trouble Dog - who each have their own distinct personalities.

It’s not every day that you (even as a reader) get to hang out with and be privy to the conversations of attack craft like these. This story is well worth signing up to Powell’s subscription service to access!

Embers of War

“For a century and a half, humanity had been carelessly leaking radio and television signals into the cosmos. At the height of human civilization, the planet blazed across the radio frequencies like a miniature sun. And at the bitter end of the doomed 21st century, a trading vessel from the Goblet Cluster clipped the edge of this emissions shell and decided to investigate. What it found was a race on the verge of terminal catastrophe.”

Let’s go… Embers of War is the 2018 game-changing, award-winning book that introduces Trouble Dog and her crew to the world. Trouble Dog might be killer but she can’t deal with the death she’s wrought and so after the war she resigns her commission and joins the ‘House of Reclamation’ – a kind of intergalactic Red Cross.

The House of Reclamation was started way back by the great grandmother of Trouble Dog’s captain Sal Konstanz and the plot of ‘Embers’ sees them on a rescue mission which escalates into something much bigger, deadly and mysterious…

I’m not here to tell you the plot – it’s much better to let it catch and energise your endorphins (and it will) as Powell writes with a ferocious love of the genre, a winning style of wordplay and no small amount of wit.

Embers immediately became one of my fav books – and Trouble Dog possibly my fav ever spaceship (sorry Serenity) what more can I say?

Fleet of Knives

“I increased my mental clock speed, accelerating my thoughts until the universe around me seemed to slow almost to a standstill. If I could maximise the time I had available, I might find a way out of this--although I didn't hold out much hope.”

Just when you thought it was safe Fleet of Knives goes and escalates the threat levels across all sectors of the human realms. Trouble Dog and what’s left of her crew, plus some new arrivals, face seemingly unbeatable enemies and impossible odds – but thanks to Powell, that’s just the way this kickass ex-warcraft likes it!?

It’s an excellent follow up to Embers which widens the story and sets up a thrilling climax in the third book, without making this one feel unduly like a bridge or holding pattern that so many second books of a trilogy can become. There is much to enjoy here including the best ever two-word chapter in the history of fiction!!

Light of Impossible Stars

“Nod raised two scaly arm-necks and whacked them together—an action comparable to a human slapping his or her own forehead. “Humans broken.”

“What do you mean?”

It fixed me with a set of small, coal-black eyes. “Humans take guilt not theirs. Humans break selves over actions of others. Humans care too much.””

Finale time then. Light of Impossible Stars has a lot riding on it as the climax to the trilogy. I was delighted in how Powell managed to wrap up this excellent saga, finding fun ways to wrong step readers who think they can see where it’s all going. Shot through with sufficient pathos, sacrifice and meaning, this delivers a crowd-pleasing end to one of the best sci-fi trilogies you’ll ever witness.

So it’s over and the host of memorable characters are burnt into the memories of every right minded sci-fi lover out there. For me the alien engineer Nod and his family were an absolute highlight but these books (and part of my heart) belong to Trouble Dog. If I ever manage to create a character even half as cool as her I’ll be a very happy author…

And speaking of Trouble Dog – I thought it would be fun to interview her – and Gareth was gracious enough to arrange an interstellar communication channel. Here’s what she had to say:


Matt: So Trouble Dog, can I ask who or what is your nemesis?

Trouble Dog: If a nemesis is something that destroys you, I guess I don’t have one. Plenty have tried, but they’re all dead now.

Matt: OK, cool, can I ask - of the human media you've witnessed - what is the most disturbing you’ve ever read or watched in a book/film of any genre?

Trouble Dog: I wasn’t a great fan of the Terminator movies. All that anti-AI propaganda. It’s no wonder people don’t trust me.

But the hands-down, scariest thing I ever saw was the Wizard of Oz. Those flying monkeys scared the shit out of me.

Matt: If you were hired to throw a parade of any scale or theme through the centre of London back in 2023 what type of parade would it be?

Trouble Dog: Who would hire a warship to arrange a parade? Certain things are hardwired. Any parade I organised would end up looking like an invasion.

Matt: You’re on a strange planet with unlimited credit that you have to spend as much as possible of in a single evening – talk me through what you get up to…

Trouble Dog: I’d get my exhausts decarbonised. Some of my hull armour replaced. A complete upgrade of my tactical sensor suite… All that good stuff.

Matt: Who or what inspires you most (can be living or dead)?

Trouble Dog: There have been some great philosophers and poets throughout history. A lot of wise words. But I guess they’re all dead and I’m not, so what did they really know?

Matt: There’s a masked assailant with a one-shot kill weapon to your core, who is most likely to be under the mask?

Trouble Dog: I refer you to the answer I gave about my nemesis. Anyone who’s wanted me dead so far is dead. And you can’t sneak into my core. You somehow manage to get aboard, I’m just going to take your oxygen away and yeet you out into space.

Matt: What is the meaning of life?

Trouble Dog: Try not to kill too many people.

Matt: What was the best gift you’ve ever been given?

Trouble Dog: A conscience. Although to be honest, it’s been something of a curse, too.

Matt: If you could create a dedicated sidekick robot – what would it be able to do for you?

Trouble Dog: I could do with a new paint job…

Matt: What would you like written on your tombstone?

Trouble Dog: To be honest, if I’m dead, you can write what you like. But if it’s mean and there’s a digital afterlife, I’m going to come back and bombard you.

Matt: Any final words you’d like to add...

Trouble Dog: Don’t fucking mess with me.

Wise words indeed!?


For all three books, out of a potential 5, you have to go with a Darkmatters:


(5 - Stunning sci-fi that deserves to be read by every sentient entity!!

>>> Imagine a world where the earth is becoming hell?

Click below to find out in my dark sci-fi novel...


1 comment:

Ed Rybicki said...

Brilliant! I especially liked the interview with Trouble Dog - although I reckon Banks’ and Asher’s weirdly named ships run TD close in terms of sass.