Review: TIER 1000 by Jason Anspach and Doc Spears
A soldier in the American Special Forces dies during a war with China in the near future. When he wakes up in the afterlife, he learns he's been selected by ancient gods of war to join an elite combat squad called the Ultimates, in preparation for a world-ending threat.
While this concept is not altogether unfamiliar, I really liked this particular take on it. TIER 1000 is the kind of book that I've branded as a "training camp novel," where the protagonist and the reader are simultaneously walked through an initiation into a larger world, specifically via the mechanism of a school or boot camp. At times this can slow the story down, as Ragnar goes through exercise after exercise, because the outcome is kind of a given--he'll learn something minor, and then hit the barracks for some sleep.
But I liked that he wasn't idle, that he eagerly wanted to peel back the curtain of the afterlife and see what this whole mess was really about. I also liked the addition of death-gods and war-gods from mythologies around the world, which established the potential for lots of exploration in the future. Very cool world and a satisfying first step into it.
The old gods of Earth may have stopped dealing with humanity at large, but they haven't gone away. Maybe they're gods, maybe they're hyper-advanced mortals, maybe they're space aliens. The reader goes on a journey of discovery alongside the protagonist, Ragnar Beck, whose soul was plucked from death and dropped in Valhalla, where he gets to prepare for the war to end all wars.
In Valhalla, Ragnar meets a lot of other warriors from different times and places in Earth's history, most of whom are from his past (downtime.) There are very few people from "uptime," (Ragnar's future), leading him to believe that time passes differently in Valhalla, and that some kind of world-ending threat is coming to Earth in the very near future.
It'll be up to men like Ragnar and his company to train with different weapons and different tech from around the world, shaping themselves into the most fluid fighting force ever known. Such is the demand of their new god, Mars Augustus, the literal Roman god of war.
But not all is as Ragnar has been told. As he struggles to trust his superiors, he'll make even stronger alliances with his new friends, and before long he'll have to decide who he actually trusts in this strange new existence.
Ragnar Beck, a Special Forces soldier from the somewhat-near future, who dies in war with a new Chinese nation. He's the first-person main character, and we experience most of this book through his eyes.
Will Jensen was a soldier in World War 1 under Blackjack Pershing. He becomes Ragnar's first friend in Valhalla.
Mars Augustus is the Roman god of war, and he's in charge in Valhalla.
Michael and Gabriel, the angels from the Bible, are also in Valhalla. They serve under Mars.
Then there's Mictlantehcutli, the Aztec god of death, who just might be up to something really sinister...
Our world, another generation or two down the road. The United States and China no longer exist by those names or their present banners, but they're still engaged in the same conflict over culture and resources, which has now become all-out war.
Like today, plus a few more decades of Mandatory Sensitivity and Forced Equity stuff pushed onto us by our moral superiors. The Armed Forces have been fully neutered by political and cultural forces that demand "inclusivity" at the expense of combat efficacy, right up to the moment when the free Western world is attacked by an emboldened China that expects little resistance. It's under these conditions that Ragnar initially dies, and he has plenty to say about it.
That said, the perspectives put forth in this book have very little to do with politics at all. Anspach and Sears have some observations to make about the Armed Forces from a practical standpoint, and whether you're right- or left-wing will heavily influence how you receive those observations.
Nothing above a mid-range PG-13 as far as language is concerned. Abundant combat violence, though the most grotesque examples are reserved for the final battle against the main enemy.
Who is it for?
This is definitely a book for fans of military science-fiction, as it's heavy on details about a soldier's mindset, coming from a family of soldiers, and living a soldier's life. Anspach and Sears also dedicate a fair amount of page space to describing the mechanics of Mars' organization, and the day-to-day life of someone who was resurrected to fight in an eternal war.
Why read it?
Initially I asked myself the same question. I've read plenty of "training camp" novels where the reader spends a lot of time following the MC around so the author can explain everything to them in context. I sensed that this might be the same thing, but I was relieved at how light the treatment was. Sure you've got some ropes to learn, and you get to do it while enjoying plenty of dynamic movement along the way.
Ultimately I kept reading because there was a good balance between answering old questions and revealing new mysteries, letting the reader see this well-developed plot and well-developed world reveal themselves in good time. In addition to being a good genre piece, I think TIER 1000 has a lot of interesting subtext about the need to be prepared for war, no matter who you are.