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Book Review: Knox’s Irregulars

Some would consider the pairing of “Christian” with “Sci-Fi” to be a contradiction in terms. Like Aubrey Hansen’s Red Rain, this book proves them dead wrong.

Randal Knox never wanted to be a leader, but as the eldest son of the Prime Minister of New Geneva, he appeared destined for the political arena. Averse to the idea, Randal enlists in the armored infantry, preferring a life in the military to being a political figure.

When the Khlisti – followers of a religion cobbled together from Marxism, Islam, and New age spirituality – seize control of neighboring Abkhenazia, Randal’s world is turned completely upside down. An overwhelming army of zealots cross the border into New Geneva, scattering its small defense force and sending the survivors running for their lives. Randal pulls together a handful of armored infantry and takes shelter in the mountain city of Providence.

But the respite is short-lived. With Providence under the control of Colonal Gregor Tsepashin, Randal Knox faces a choice between hiding safely in the catacombs… and leading his motley crew of fighters in guerilla warfare against the enemy.

Thus is the premise behind J. Wesley Bush’s new novel Knox’s Irregulars – a futuristic military thriller set in the 25th century and laced with science fiction, first-rate adventure, wry humor, and memorable characters. Needless to say, I’m impressed.

I can count on one hand the modern novels I’ve read that smoothly incorporate Christianity into the storyline. Most fail for one of two reasons: either the author hasn’t a clue about what he believes, or he doesn’t know how to communicate it without turning the book into an artistically-deficient soapbox. J. Wesley Bush avoids both these pitfalls.

Christian themes and characters (and a staunch respect for the Calvinist principals of the Reformation) are abundant, but they’re woven in without force – thus lending the story substance without reducing it to platitudinous sermonizing.

The characters – from Randal Knox to Arianne to the mad Belorussian immigrant Lebedev – are three-dimensional and wonderfully-imagined, developing naturally as the story progresses. No stale cardboard cutouts here, and thank goodness for that. Personally, I would’ve appreciated reading a little more about Colonel Tsepashin, but this is a minor complaint: the focus of the book is Knox and his irregulars, and in that regard, Bush’s character-crafting is more than satisfactory.

Best of all is the quality of the writing: it’s smooth, polished, and consistently good throughout. The dialogue is realistic, the pacing is smart, and the sprinkling of wry humor is funny without ever jeopardizing the overall seriousness of the story. Also worth noting are the action sequences, which are crisply written and exciting. Bush’s attention to the technical details – he previously served as an airborne infantryman, military intelligence cryptolinguist, and NGO worker – make his fascinating vision of futuristic warfare all the more believable.

For those wondering about content, there’s not much to be concerned about here. Of course, there’s quite a bit of war violence, as good guys and bad guys alike are annihilated by a plethora of futuristic armaments; and while these sequences are intense, they’re seldom gory. A smattering of mild language is present, and there is some (tasteful) discussion of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Sexuality is nil: the relationship between Randal and Arianne is a sweet one, and while they do share several kisses (which I would’ve preferred they save until marriage), their romance is overall as chaste and lovely a one as you could possibly hope for.

I was initially troubled by the fact that the two primary female characters were serving side-by-side with men in the New Genevan military force. After some consideration, however, I wouldn’t say Bush is endorsing this sort of egalitarianism, but rather merely presenting it as a likely – if less than ideal – scenario. Judging by the state of our present military, I’m inclined to agree that he is (unfortunately) correct.

All in all, I heartily recommend Knox’s Irregulars. As far as I can see, its only real “flaw” is in forcing the reader to wait for future installments of what looks to be a series-in-the-making. I think J. Wesley Bush is to be commended for skillfully taking on the challenge issued by C.S. Lewis decades ago: “We don’t need more Christian writers: we need more good writers, and composers, who are Christian.”

On the Bookshelf

Knowing God by J.I. Packer
I can’t believe I’m only now discovering this book. What an amazing read, in every way deserving of the title “classic”. I’m about halfway through it at this point, and it’s quickly becoming a favorite.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre
I started this one primarily because I was interested in seeing the movie (which hits theaters next month). I’ve learned to appreciate it for its own merits, however, and I can honestly say that it’s one of the best espionage thrillers I’ve ever read. The plot is intricate and smart, the tension is gradually built but relentless, and George Smiley is now one of my all-time favorite literary characters.
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
A scathing and profound indictment of a media-drunk society obsessed with being “entertained”. Neil Postman is a brilliant writer, both smart and darkly humorous, and his examination of the cultural effects of show-business and television are eye-opening and thought-provoking.
Knox’s Irregulars by J. Wesley Bush
A sci-fi military thriller set in the 25th century. The author served as an airborne infantryman, military intelligence cryptolinguist, NGO worker, and historian… and he’s also a Reformed Christian. To quote one of the reviewers on Amazon.com, “Take a Tom Clancy novel like The Teeth Of The Tiger… set it in a universe like the one depicted in Firefly… sprinkle in a respect for the sensibilities of the Protestant Reformation, and you’ve got J. Wesley Bush’s new novel Knox’s Irregulars.”
Empire by Niall Ferguson
A well-written account of the rise and fall of the British World Order, as well a fascinating account of its impact – both positive and negative – on the surrounding world. I’m not entirely certain I agree with all of the author’s conclusions (and I don’t believe he’s writing from a Christian perspective), but nevertheless, it’s a superb read so far.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
What can I say? It’s a classic and I should’ve read it years ago. I’m not the biggest fan of Dickens’ – it is my personal opinion that he waxeth a little too verbose sometimes – but I have to say I’m really enjoying this one.
Carry a Big Stick by George Grant
An inspiring little biography of the inimitable Theodore Roosevelt, one of my favorite historical figures. I had to laugh at the Amazon.com reviews denouncing it as a “right-wing Christian propaganda piece”. *gasp* Well imagine that! A book about a Christian man written from a Christian perspective? *double gasp* Preposterous! How dare they…
Economics In One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
Who knew economics could be so interesting and fun to study? Hazlitt does a superb job of making even the most complex economic theories easy to grasp, without dumbing them (or the reader) down. Concise, painlessly intructive, and a vigorous contender for free-market capitalism. Definitely recommended.
A Summary of Christian Doctrine by Louis Berkhof
A brief but instructive presentation of the Christian religion written in the 1960s. So far, very little of the subject matter is new to me (one of the advantages of growing up in a Christian home), but I always welcome a good “refresher”.

What’s on your bookshelf right now?