When we consider speculative fiction literature in Portugal, it sometimes seems that, although we don’t have many being produced, there is at least one example for each sub-genre that you can think of. With A Batalha da Escuridão / The Dark Sea War Chronicles, by Bruno Martins Soares, that statement also becomes true regarding military science fiction.
In fact, militaristic details had already featured widely in Bruno’s most well-known series: The Alex9 Saga. The series began as a young adult cross between science fiction and high fantasy (with two books – A Guardiã da Espada [The Keeper of the Sword] (2009) and A Coroa dos Deuses [The Crown of the Gods] (2010) being published in the TEEN collection), to assume an ambitious cosmological and philosophical backdrop by the end of the series (closed in 2012 with the omnibus A Saga de Alex9 [The Alex9 Saga]). In it, it can be felt the attention the writer puts into the logistics and description of pitched battles, especially those in the high fantasy register. Nonetheless, those were mere flourishes to a well achieved, and very kinetic, series. With The Dark Sea War Chronicles, Bruno deals instead with military science fiction as the overarching structure and tone of the story.
With the added curiosity of having been firstly published in English, through Amazon/Kindle, as a three book series (Fighting the Silent (2017), Mission in the Dark (2017), and Shark-Killer (2018)), it was finally published in Portuguese in 2018, by Editorial Divergência, as an omnibus volume, entitled A Batalha da Escuridão – As Crónicas de Byllard Iddo. The decision to bring the series together in a single volume works quite well, as the reading jumps effortlessly between the three sections.
The story recounts the adventures of Byllard Iddo, a clever but unwitting hero in a raging war among planets. Here, Bruno’s credentials as a screenwriter come to the fore, with a particular sense of narrative, attentive to how it builds characterisation and movement. However, the initial steps of characters development probably makes complete sense in a movie but feels rushed in literary form, as it tries to convey to the reader a dimension of personal trauma without yet an emotional involvement with the character or the story. Fortunately, the candid personality that Bruno attributes to Byllard ends up by making up for this as soon as Byllard begins to be more familiar.
The author quickly introduces us to the high stakes of the dispute between the Webbur Union, its ally the Kingdom of Torrance, and their rival, the Axx Republic. And, as before in our own reality with the Atlantic Sea in World War Two, the expanse between these planetary systems, especially a void called Dark Sea, becomes the scenario of a needful travel harassed by hidden perils. In this, Bruno mimics the perceived aesthetic of the U-Boat campaign and opposition in the North Atlantic with such accuracy that many times it is difficult to maintain the suspension of disbelief of science fiction, and not see it as a period drama! Nonetheless, both by providing the point of view of cargo ships and protective detail, and that of the furtive Silent Boats, Bruno weaves an intense story, which he populates with deep thought characters and extensive expositions on the meanders of human emotions in extreme situations, as the constant loss of life in an all-out war.
As befits military SF, Bruno makes the technological details a critical part of the narrative. Ships and equipment details are not only frequently indicated, but they play an intricate part on battle outcomes. Bruno clearly makes an effort to provide cause and consequence, for large battles as well as for individuals.
A Batalha da Escuridão / The Dark Sea War Chronicles, by Bruno Martins Soares, is an intense ride, an adventure with full guns blazing confrontations interlaced with contemplative character moments. The series captures how the actions of an individual can influence the course of History, while at the same time his personal history is impacted by the events beyond his control. Above all, it shows how reality can be flitting, for better and for worse…