Review: Dire Steps, Sim War Book 3 by Henry V. O’Neil

dire stepsThe third volume in Henry V. O’Neil’s politico-military science fiction series will be released in ebook format tomorrow, September 29th.  Amazing Stories has reviewed the first two volumes (Glory Main; Orphan Brigade) previously and the fact that we’re taking an advanced look at book 3 – Dire Steps – ought to be enough of an endorsement for our readers to suggest that the series is worth taking a look at.

Henry V. O’Neil is the science fiction pseudonym for one Vincent H. O’Neil, award winning mystery author and West Point graduate who has served with the 10th Mountain Division and the First Battalion (Airborne) of the 508th Infantry Brigade in Panama.  That last suggests some verisimilitude associated with his writing about future warfare, and the reader will not be disappointed; O’Neil’s battle scenes are laced with confusion, miscommunication, hidden agendas, personal emotion, fear, courage, esprit de corps, flawed decision making under pressure and all of the other human elements that make a battle a battle, and are all too infrequently absent in the military science fiction by authors who have no personal experience of the same.

All through reading the first two books in the series I had a tip of the tongue feeling that it reminded me of another series of books, but I just could not resolve that feeling.  While reading Dire Steps, it finally came to me:  The Sim War series combines political intrigue and military action in ways that are very reminiscent of Alexis Gilliland’s Rosinante series (highly recommended btw!).

The Rosinante series (The Revolution From Rosinante, Long Shot For Rosinante, The Pirates Of Rosinante) features Charles Cantrell, a construction boss in charge of completing a space habitat when everything falls apart on Earth.  The three books present this tale from three distinct viewpoints while the Sim War series is linear in presentation, but there is a thread of sameness that James Davis Nicol captures perfectly in his review of the Rosinante series:

“…it is perfectly in keeping with Cantrell’s habit of solving immediate problems by creating much larger, longer term problems.” James Davis Nicoll

Why is this so, and why is it so intriguing?  Because warfare, whether economic or physical (on the ground, in the air or out in space) is a forest fire fighting exercise:  while you’re busying stomping out the brush over here, embers have flown unimpeded through the air and have started five more fires several miles away;  there’s never enough water, never enough fire fighters, the weather changes from bad to worse and lunch is never served on time.  Unbeknownst to you, Mr. Fire Chief, politicians miles – or light years – away are making decisions that will drastically affect your condition, based on completely unsupported suppositions about what is really happening.  And on top of all of that, the people who reported the location of the fire lied.

In the Sim War universe, humanity has colonized the stars utilizing technology (The Step) that was anonymously gifted to it.  Into this arena are introduced the Sims, human analogs with whom humanity is utterly incapable of communicating with;  Sims in close proximity to humans for extended periods die of unknown causes;  Sim soldiers are, seemingly, superior fighters to humans.

War with the Sims has caused a crisis in human government, resulting in the assassination of the elected President and the installation of an Emergency Council run by the military and headed up by a war hero, one Olech Mortas.

Olech’s wife and mother of his two children (Ayliss and Jander) has been assassinated by rival politicians; Jander has survived a hopeless battle with the Sims and, at the same time, uncovered another alien presence; Ayliss has broken with her father who has assigned her to intervene on a world that was gifted to veterans for their service and is also leased to a mining concern with both sides feeling that they own the planet; Ayliss uses this assignment as an opportunity to display her own fighting prowess (which, if anything, exceeds that of her veteran brother’s).

Olech is faced with dissension within the human ranks; the need to uncover his first wife’s assassin; a need to discover what the presence of the new aliens means and, above all, the need to contact who or whatever gifted the human race with faster-than-light technology.

Olech’s quests are interspersed with the adventures of his children Jander and Ayliss, as they fight two very different kinds of battles on two very different planets.  Both battles are complicated by the presence of political machinations and interference from unexpected quarters.

And all the while, the Sims keep evolving and throwing spanners into the works.

The standout in Dire Steps is Ayliss Mortas.  Personal encounters in earlier books have shown her that she has a personal affinity for revenge, if not for warfare.  Unlike her brother, the professional soldier, Ayliss has discovered that she likes killing when her victims deserve it.

Once on her assigned planet, Ayliss quickly hooks up with a small cadre of Banshee fighters, an all female force of shock troops and picks up the additional training she needs; later, she puts all of her new found knowledge and experience to good(?) use.  Ayliss is a bit conflicted (though not much) and absolutely ferocious.  If she should stop by for a visit, make sure all of your rocket launchers are secured.  Just sayin.

Jander, on the the other hand, gets a bit of training in fighting on hillsides; the tactics displayed ring very true, no doubt a legacy of O’Neill’s time with the 10th Mountain Division.  There are some very immersive scenes here – don’t be surprised if you can taste the dirt.

If there’s one flaw with Dire Steps it is that this third installment of the Sim War is not as stand-alone as the previous two volumes; it’s fairly stand-alone, but the reader’s experience will definitely be enhanced by reading the first two volumes in the Sim War series first.

You can find the Sim War series here.

You can visit Vincent H. O’Neill’s website here


Please take a moment to support Amazing Stories with a one-time or recurring donation via Patreon. We rely on donations to keep the site going, and we need your financial support to continue quality coverage of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres as well as supply free stories weekly for your reading pleasure.

Previous Article

A Decade of Demigods: Percy Jackson’s 10th Anniversary

Next Article


You might be interested in …

1 Comment

  1. Once again I’m humbled and honored by the care, effort, expertise, and experience Steve Davidson puts into every one of his reviews. Thank you so much, and I’m thrilled you enjoyed DIRE STEPS.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.