Podium Publishing, 2016, 480 pages
Colonel Joe Bishop made a promise, and he's going to keep it: taking the captured alien starship Flying Dutchman back out. He doesn't agree when the UN decides to send almost 70 elite Special Operations troops, hotshot pilots, and scientists with him; the mission is a fool's errand he doesn't expect to ever return from. At least this time, the Earth is safe, right?
Not so much.
I remember groaning a little when I finished the first book in this series, Columbus Day, and realized that there are about nine more books in the series so far, plus prequels, side stories, and other miscellaneous padding.
The second book was indeed an entire novel that could probably have been one episode of a TV series, or a few chapters of a full-length space opera.
This is a ripping MiLSF yarn which you will enjoy if you like ripping MilSF space yarns, but it's basically more of the same from the first book. Having saved Earth from the lizard-like Kristang, who are your basic Evil Warlike Alien Baddies, and discovered that the galaxy is full of patron-client relationships with increasingly advanced (and usually increasingly tyrannical) races at the top of the hierarchy, and humans being the new kids with the shit end of the stick, former Sergeant Joe Bishop has to take a UN-crewed captured starship back out into space on a quest to find a network of super-advanced AIs that their friend "Skippy" still believes is out there, left behind by the Elders.
"Skippy" of course is the talking beer can who's actually a millions-of-years-old unbelievably advanced Artificial Intelligence, who can peruse all collected human knowledge in the space between breaths, as he never tires of reminding people.
And really, I got tired of Skippy. He was funny in the first book. His relationship with Joe (who's now a Colonel, and captain of a ship full of multinational SpecOps troopers) is supposed to be a sort of sci-fi bromance. They razz each other constantly, Skippy tells monkey jokes, and then Joe will come up with an idea to get the ship out of their current predicament, and Skippy will whine for a while about how much he hates his life because a "monkey" had a good idea. This happens like half a dozen times in this book, and frankly, for a super-advanced AI who should be capable of playing 50 trillion games of go at once and still piloting a starship, Skippy is frequently petty, forgetful, and clueless. There's an obvious plot-related reason for this, as having the super-AI solve all their problems would make for a crappy story, but he can do magic tricks with space-time when it's convenient and then he's just a smart-ass talking beer can when it's not. Introducing a deux ex machina character in book one seems to be a problem the writer is having trouble writing himself out of, and his solution seems to be an endless stream of juvenile humor.
While it sounds like I'm complaining (okay, I am) this was a serviceable space opera, with a few dread secrets discovered, escalating stakes (because of course Earth has to be threatened again), and a few side characters who get very few pages compared to Joe and Skippy. There's a lot of technobabble problem solving, some space battles, and boner jokes. The Expeditionary Force series will appeal to anyone who likes long series or TV science fiction, but it's the sort of serial churned out by an indie author writing three books a year.
I will probably continue the series, but it does not have that pull that makes me think I'm going to love twelve more books of this.
Also by Craig Alanson: My review of Columbus Day.
My complete list of book reviews.