Title: The Cobra Trilogy (Cobra, Cobra Strike, Cobra Bargain)
Author: Timothy Zahn
Nutshell: The Cobra Trilogy covers three generations of super-soldier. In the first book, small town boy Johnny Moreau wants to change the odds in the war against an alien menace to the Human worlds. He undergoes surgery to become a super-soldier, with servo-assisted, ceramically strengthened muscles and bones, built in lasers, and an implanted computer loaded with an acrobatic skill set to help drive them. He fights the war with the Trofts, and then afterwards deals with the political ramifications of a segment of the population having been turned into un-retireable weapons.
In the second book, Jonny’s twin sons Joshua and Justin impersonate each other on a covert mission. A planet populated by humans has been discovered far from human-controlled space, but intel suggests they are hostile. The inhabitants don’t seem hostile at first. In fact, they seem unnervingly peaceful. Unsettlingly peaceful. And a strange bird explorers find on a different planet may hold the key to getting back home safely.
In the third book, Justin’s daughter Jessica is made the first female Cobra and sent to surveil the formerly suspicious planet, but she is unexpectedly shot down. Somehow, as an obvious offworlder in potentially hostile territory, she must escape the planet. Od course, she thinks she’ll be able to complete her mission on the way.
Read-alikes: Michael A. Stackpole and Jerry Pournelle both write similar planet-based military SF.
The first book in this trilogy is a very typical 80s military sci-fi. It’s got the 80s plotting style, where you cover a couple decades in two-hundred-odd pages, while somehow skipping whole chunks of the best character moments to make room for more in-between summaries. If you’re not crazy about either Zahn or 80s military sci-fi, I’d honestly skip this one. There’s hints to it of Zahn’s trademark clever win-win-win endings, but it’s a fairly plain book.
The second and third, however, are much improved. The characters are firmly in the spotlight, rather than shining through the plot like smothered candles. And this reads with Zahn’s style. One of his trademarks is original inter-species interactions, and believably alien aliens. Thus he has the Trofts, a widespread alien race who controls a vast amount of space, not as empire, but as small merchant holdings. To have interspace relations with them is a complicated morass of rights and precedents.
And thus he has the strange ecology on the new planets. They’re the primary conflict, as strange as that sounds. There’s a sort of bird that’s found a way to be the apex predator on the planet, and that’s quite the feat when humans are about.
And, like I said, he has the amazing, cat’s cradle sort of win-for-everyone endings. They’re really astonishing feats. You’ll have to read it to see what I mean.