by Kyt Dotson
When looking for a bite-sized diversion with science fiction candy, readers need only look as far as the web for Spots the Space Marine by M.C.A. Hogarth. The chapters are short and to the point, and the verse is so direct it’s almost laconic. The main character is a new twist on an old trope, a woman taken out of her comfort zone returned to combat as a marine after more than a decade of motherhood. It puts her into an interesting perspective that we don’t often see from novels about marines in general. It’s easy to get lost in the slowly winding storyline that reveals more and more about the main character and her marine squad; but especially interesting is the plight of the universe and the alien Fiddlers.
At first, following the terse, theatrical play-styled prose can be a little bit difficult; but combined with the extremely short vignette chapters it provides a sense of proximity to the moment. Life doesn’t always give you enough time to digest the scenery, and instead you must get a sense of what’s going on from conversation and hints of movement. The type of verse Hogarth uses in the story really sets the stage for an atmospheric story.
In the story, it’s revealed that humanity—and the rest of the universe—is suffering under an insect-like scourge that must be held back before it devours the entire galaxy. The aliens in this story are praying mantis creatures (in my mind, although I believe they’re crustaceans) called the Fiddlers who have allied themselves with humanity and given them the technology to fight against this threat. That’s Fiddlers as in fiddler crabs. As the story progresses more about their culture and their strange symbiosis with humanity becomes apparent.
Early on, Spots’s status as a mother becomes an important part in her interactions with the Fiddlers. As crustaceans, they have a particularly special relationship with mothers and thus Spots finds herself thrust into an oddly diplomatic position and the drama heats up. As a result, readers are also thrust into a world of cross-cultural intrigue as seen through the viewpoint of a mother-become-marine and her squadmates.
When I interviewed Hogarth about her inspiration for the serial webnovel, she told me she’d drawn it from other military science fiction and her love of space marines in general. I myself find the space marine a worthy archetype and I’ve written as much for Digital Science Fiction.
“I have been an avid reader of science fiction,” she said about her previous literary experience, “and military science fiction in particular, for years, and while I’ve written my response to Star Trek‘s softcore quasi-military before, I’ve never had a chance to write an homage to the military SF of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, which was part grit and part philosophy tract. I loved the brotherhood, the camaraderie, the action and the thought exercises in that book and books like it. When I decided to take the writing of Spots seriously, that was the influence clearest in mind.”
Spots the Space Marine is weblit, a medium for fiction that uses the web and a mechanism for free publication—weblit crosses all genres, including science fiction. As a medium, it has an extremely long tradition that started with mediaeval chapbooks, pamphlets, and magazines that serialized stories. It’s simply been updated for the Internet era where it’s virtually free to publish for audiences of millions of people.
For people who haven’t started reading this story there’s a lot waiting under the surface for new readers. Spots the Space Marine provides a wide range of humanity through such small windows, fun and interesting characters, and a tradition of science fiction not often seen inked on the page. This story is worth attempting simply for the novelty of the subject matter and the way that Hogarth approaches the narrative.
If that’s not enough, a potential reader should listen to the author herself.
“Spots is about camaraderie and brotherhood,” says Hogarth. “But it’s also about family, culture and being alien. It’s about trust issues. It’s about the delight of discovering people you’d trust at your back… whether they’re a decade older than you’d expect, or not even human.”
Most importantly, she explains, it’s best not to forget what brings many of us to a science fiction story:
“Spots the Space Marine is also about guns, explosions, hair-raising, heart-pounding action scenes, and really bad jokes.”