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Bitter Seeds

Bitter Seeds - Ian Tregillis If you have to give the Nazis credit for anything (note: you do not have to give the Nazis credit for anything), it’s their thoroughness. In addition to fighting a massive war on several fronts and systematically eliminating large swaths of the population in Europe, they also managed to conduct enough bizarre experiments to launch a thousand works of speculative fiction that basically boil down to, wow, those guys were totally fucking crazy.It’s a bit galling that stories of German mad scientists provide such nightmarishly fertile ground for writers, but there you have it. Bitter Seeds is an impressive example of this kind of comic book history, which exaggerate the literal horrors just enough (not nearly enough, really, and I don’t mean that as a criticism of the book) to produce a fascinating and compelling “what if?” What if Nazi eugenics experiments created a race of literal supermen, with X-Men-style powers of telekinesis, flight, teleportation and precognition? What if the only way to defeat such a menace involved British warlocks toying with forces greater and more terrible than anything created by man?Ian Tregillis displays imagination to spare in his debut novel, and even if parts of it seem a little familiar, he assembles everything with flair. If you are drawn in by the premise alone, you’ll be delighted – the second half of the book features a number of thrilling, cinematic battles between the Nazi augments and British Special Forces. Never before have I really contemplated the logistics of fighting a dude who can turn himself transparent whenever he wants. I have concluded that it would not go well for me. Look deeper, and there’s more – commentary on the lengths a “civilized” nation will go to fighting a perceived evil, and the moral culpability we all share when our nation goes to war.I’m not without complaints, though, which is why I’m giving this one 3.5 stars. It just wasn’t quite as good as I wanted it to be, mostly because the good guys are straight out of central casting, particularly the heroic point man Raybould (nice name), who doesn’t have much of a personality, which probably explains his relationship with his wife, who doesn’t have any personality, unless you count stoic handwringing. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if so much of the book didn’t focus on Raybould’s love for his wife and daughter as motivating factors; it’s a lazy way to give him a depth of purpose beyond “this is what I am doing because this is the plot of the book.”Those offenses are largely forgiven because so much else works. The prime antagonist, Gretel, is fascinating and, if anything, underused (probably because to use her more would threaten to derail the book entirely). The concept of someone with perfect precognition – the ability to know everything before it happens, and to see the future mutate and change as her actions create ripples on the water… It’s an unfathomable power, and I can’t imagine how such a person could ever be defeated. Which is probably why Tregillis needs two additional books to figure out how to do it.