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MJ-12: Inception by Michael J. Martinez

MJ-12: Inception by Michael J. Martinez
Book Name: MJ-12: Inception
Author: Michael J. Martinez
Publisher(s): Night Shade Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Ebook
Genre(s): Historical Fantasy / Thriller
Release Date: September 6, 2016

Michael J. Martinez first hit our shelves with the incredible Daedalus series, which dazzled critics and fans alike with 18th Century battleships in space and multi-dimensional plotlines. It was a trilogy (and spin-off novella) that mashed a range of genres into a fresh fantasy adventure that we really hadn’t seen before and I couldn’t help but fall in love with.

When Martinez announced that he was departing from galaxy exploring to write a Cold War thriller, I was both excited and a little disappointed. It was great to hear he was going to try something new. But after experiencing weaponised mechs fighting zombies on Venus, a more realistic thriller seemed almost mundane.

I should never have doubted him.

The Official Blurb

From the ashes of World War II, a Cold War ignites. And from the nuclear fire of Hiroshima, something else has arisen. Normal people around the world have been changed by an unknown phenomenon and now possess extraordinary, super-human abilities. And the government conspiracy known as MAJESTIC-12 is gathering them together—to use them if it can, to destroy them if it cannot.

The Good News

For a thriller, this moves at a fantastic pace. We start with a post-Second World War mission gone wrong in Berlin, before jumping to a mystery in Hiroshima, where military man Lieutenant Danny Wallace is investigating a strange occurrence in the aftermath of the bomb. This sets the scene of our world, before we’re whisked around to meet the cast of characters we’ll be following, who have all suddenly started to display some very bizarre abilities.

These are the Variants, a group of normal people who have suddenly found themselves with superpowers. And the government wants to recruit them. So far, it’s like an X-Files-themed episode of Heroes set during the Cold War. And it’s awesome.

This finding and forming of the Variant team makes up a good portion of the book and what makes it fun is that the fantasy is woven in and out of a very real background. We witness nuclear bomb testing in the Pacific, chat with President Harry Truman himself, enjoy nods to the legendary ‘UFO crash’ at Roswell, before spending time at Area 51. In fact, the Majestic-12 referred to in the title is an organisation actually rumoured to have been complicit in the cover up of the alleged UFO crash at Roswell. And while there are no flying saucers in this story (yet?), its use here perfectly highlights just how close we’re skirting to history in the story, albeit a little more twisted and with an extra touch of the fantastical.

One of the best things about the author’s previous series was the authentic historical feel and voice to the 18th Century setting. And while here the impact is more subtle, the author again proves he is a master of imbuing his writing with a style that makes you feel as though you’re living in that time (you can read about his approach to getting historical dialogue right here). It helps to bring to life what is a remarkably interesting period of history following the last world war, when the world is coming to terms with new external threats (Cold War) and old internal struggles (race).

Of course, voice is nothing without characters and it follows that this cast is tremendously rich and distinct.

Danny is the central figure (at least at first), who is the human face of the government that puts the team together, while Frank is the haggard, seen-it-all ex-soldier who naturally becomes the team leader. Ellis is the ‘bad guy’ with heart; a racist in line with the time period, but someone whose primary motivation is seeing his wife and kids again. Maggie has a great arc as a woman who is emotionally shut down when we first meet her, but soon learns to enjoy the power she wields (perhaps a little too much). While my favourite character, Cal, is the wonderfully passive, wry, and compassionate African-American tyre factory worker who refuses to harm people even in the middle of a firefight.

Of course, true to form, the author doesn’t hang about in only a couple of genres. If the first half of the book is government conspiracies and superpowers, the second half of the book goes full Mission: Impossible as the team finds itself on a mission which goes horribly wrong and the extent of what they’re up against is revealed. We’re then left with a surprisingly low key, but superb, denouement that shows us how far these characters have come, how they’ve come to accept their roles in life and in this Cold War, and sets up intriguing possibilities for what’s to come later.

The Bad News

Not much to report here. It can be argued the opening jumps around a little too much exploring the characters and their powers, and thus makes it difficult to get a fix on a singular protagonist to root for (for me this would probably be Frank). But as an ensemble piece this is not unexpected and at least the plot moves forward each time.

People expecting the action on a par with Daedalus might also be disappointed, although the rather more low-key, tense action scenes are certainly in keeping with the genres the author is trying to mash up and bend to his will this time around.

And, if I’m being picky, it also feels very much the first part of a trilogy. It’s not a short book by any means, so you’re getting your money’s worth, especially with the character arcs and the immediate obstacles to overcome. And it sets up future instalments perfectly. But could we have had more of the overall plot revealed here…or am I just being greedy and impatient for the next instalment?


MJ-12: Inception is Michael J. Martinez doing what he does best: taking a selection of great genres and mashing them up into something fresh and exciting, and quite unlike anything you’ve read before. We’ve shades of mystery and the paranormal, superheroes living in an alternate (or hidden) history, Cold War paranoia, and thrilling espionage—all set against a realistically drawn backdrop of a little explored (but key) time in our global history. Or to put it another way, it’s like the X-Files and Heroes went back in time, dressed up in dinner jackets, lit a fuse, and jumped through a window to the theme from Mission: Impossible. Absolutely loved it.


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