YWR: The UNION Series

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‘Twenty seconds!’

Dear Lord, please don’t let me die.

‘Okay, okay!’ Corporal Evans hurriedly answered to the pilot on the intercom, then turned to us. ‘Lads, when you exit, you go left! There’s a ditch you can get in. Left, Berezynsky you got me?’

Tony would be the first man out. ‘Yeah I got you!’

If you let me live I promise I’ll change.

‘Ten seconds!’

I’ll believe in you. I’ll go to church. I’ll never pick up a weapon again.

‘Five! This is it, lads!’

My stomach lurched for the last time as the dropship came to an abrupt standstill. My straps disengaged automatically and I reached for my rifle by instinct. Light poured in as the rear ramp began to fall.

It was raining on the surface of New Earth.

Union Series - Phillip Richards

Sean “Groz” Burke

For this installment of YWR, I decided to switch things up from my past articles and review a military science fiction series.  I’ve found that many veterans enjoy this genre and find many parallels to their own experiences in it. These are The Union novels, a series in which the storyline and characters fit into contemporary military operations just as easily as they do the future found in the novels. It was written by Phillip Richards, an active duty British Army infantryman who has deployed to Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. His experiences in these conflicts are immediately apparent to anyone reading. Veterans of those wars will recognize the parallels in the novels.


The first novel, C.R.O.W., follows protagonist (grunts: that means he’s the main character) Andy Moralee as he joins the Dropship Infantry. Dropship Infantry are basically the Airborne of the future (or Paras in the British military vernacular). Moralee is a citizen of “the Union”, the European Union of the future. This structure will allow the reader to easily follow political aspects of the novel. In C.R.O.W. readers find Moralee as he reports to his first posting with a platoon already moving to battle for a colony on another planet.

Apparently, boots in the future are referred to as “crows”, men who are “…an unwanted replacement for somebody better than him” (hence the title of the novel). The main character experiences all the usual harsh treatment familiar to any new member of an elite formation. Former paratroopers or marines, in particular, will identify with this. As the novel progresses Moralee takes part in a combat operation against the Union’s enemy, the Chinese, who are trying to gain control of the colony. What makes this installment so approachable for a science fiction novel is that the story could easily be stripped of all the technological advancements and take place in the near future.

In the sequel, Lancejack, we find Moralee now a “Lancejack.” A Lancejack is a lance corporal; he is now a veteran of the campaign depicted in the first novel and is moving up the ranks. Moralee has returned to the same colony for his first deployment, which is now experiencing an insurgency. This novel really draws on Richards’ experiences in counter-insurgency operations and makes for an interesting read for counterinsurgency veterans (or for that matter anyone trying to better understand them). I found this novel also particularly interesting as the reader follows Moralee, who is growing into his new role in a leadership billet. Richards also does a good job of showing the friction between leaders like Moralee, who belong in combat, and soldiers who don’t want to be there yet somehow slipped through the cracks and became a detriment to their unit. At times you will find yourself angered by the team leaders who are not pulling their weight. The novel also touches on the subject of how Moralee’s previous experiences in losing friends in the previous campaign weigh on his psyche.

The third novel, Eden, finds Moralee now in a “recce” or reconnaissance unit as an NCO. This recce unit is deployed to the planet Eden, which is a hotbed of various ethnic groups fighting for control. In Eden, many problems inherent to operating with indigenous forces are addressed as the Union finds itself aligned with its former enemies. This novel, in particular, will ring true with veterans who have had to work with indigenous forces they did not trust or found lacking in moral fiber. Richards’ experiences once again bring the narrative a certain element of verisimilitude and realism that many novels in this genre lack. It doesn’t break Eden’s factions into simple black and white but shows them flush with grey. This makes the story much more engaging (and true to life).

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Afghan and Iraq veterans will readily identify with the novel. The friction created by working with their “allies” in Moralee’s unit is also very well written. My only gripe when reading this novel (and don’t misunderstand me, I really enjoyed it) was the minor love story at the end. I didn’t think it added anything to the story and found it to be a break from the consistency of Moralee’s character. However, if that’s my only real criticism and it’s beyond minor; the rest of Eden, like the whole series, is excellent.

While the last novel, Recce, was released in January, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Based on the three books that preceded it I’m confident it will be an outstanding read.

Note that some reviewers took issue with grammar and spelling errors that are admittedly to be found through the books. While it definitely could use a proper editor, I was not overly troubled by mechanical problems (but some readers will be). There are the expected British vs. U.S. language (i.e. “armour” v. “armor”, “manoeuvre” v. “maneuver”) but that should be a non-issue for most readers.

CROW - Phillip RichardsThe Union Series is a great addition to the military sci-fi genre. I find its approachability for those readers that would scoff at reading science fiction to be one of its greatest attributes. This is a science fiction series that is not about the technology or aliens but about its characters. Any of the books could be transplanted in the current era or even earlier conflicts with very minor adjustment and so will resonate with many of you reading this now. Oh, and for you Kindle users, Richard’s books are very affordable at around three dollars per book – well worth the money.

      Outside we were beginning to get into an assault formation. The company was assaulting with two platoons up front with one to the rear in reserve, I remembered from my briefings. In each of those platoons were four dropships in a box formation with two up front and two to the rear. In front of each platoon were the gravtanks, at a ratio of one to every two dropships. They were essentially a dropship, but with a lower profile, more armour and a turret mounted rail gun. Each ship would be a few hundred meters apart in order to minimise the damage the company could take from explosive area weapons used by the enemy. From above the formation would look like a large triangle, concealed in smoke and the dust and sand thrown up in its wake, hurtling toward its target.

Brown removed his respirator and tipped the puke onto the floor at his feet. He looked like he was about to cry. He shook it and tried to wipe the inside on his knee.

‘No time for that now, you lizard!’ Mac scorned, ‘put it back on!’

Brown obeyed. The resy might well stink, but it would work, and that was the main thing.

‘Thirty seconds boys!’

Funnily enough I felt almost elated. I had survived the drop, with all of my section. Whatever happened when we touched down and the back door opened at least I would have a chance to do something about it rather than sitting there, strapped in and ready to die.

I doubt that Tony Berezynsky felt the same; he looked like he was losing it….

Read more about the Union and occasional blog posts from Phillip Richards here on his website. He’s on Twitter too. @PhilAuthor

If you establish comms, tell him we want him to guest blog here, or give us some inside scoop on his next book or something.

Buy a copy of C.R.O.W. or Lancejack, Eden or Recce. Hell, buy all four.

Armament: the MSG-20 Magnetic Assault Rifle

The staple weapon system of the Union army and their Chinese opponents is the magnetic assault rifle, a weapon which uses a series of magnets to propel small steel darts to supersonic speeds. Although the power requirements for magnetic weapons are high, they are significantly less than energy weapons which are often only used in vacuum and at great ranges.

The MSG (Magnetische Sturmgewehr)-20 was designed to be simple to operate so it can be used instinctively. It is designed to work in conjunction with the trooper’s visor targeting display, thus allowing it to be used without the need for a traditional gunsight, although one is still fitted for the event of the system failing. The targeting display is able to order the magnets lining the barrel to alter the flight path of the dart passing through it as the trooper fires, thus auto correcting his aim at ranges above one hundred meters. At shorter ranges the effect of auto correction is greatly reduced, however troopers shouldn’t be missing at under one hundred meters!

Darts fired by magnetic weapons have a particularly high velocity, giving them an effective range of over a thousand meters. This renders the sniper rifle—though not the sniper himself—virtually obsolete. They are capable of defeating almost all forms of personal armour, and because of this most armour is designed to deflect rather than stop a dart. Magnetic weapons cannot be used on ships without having their muzzle velocity greatly reduced by an armourer, and their power is such that fighting in buildings can become particularly difficult, since darts can penetrate masonry at short ranges.


About the Author: Sean “Groz” Burke is an avid reader who, in a former life was an  Assault Section Leader in the Marine Corps infantry. While wearing the Globe & Anchor Groz enjoyed many all-expense paid combat deployments to assorted sunny Middle Eastern and African locations; many doors were kicked, gates blown and bad people’s days ruined on those trips. When not scrawling graffiti on the walls of nearby field shitters Sean could be found instructing the use of foreign weapon systems, helping his command understand the armament capabilities of the enemy and acting as his unit’s resident “terp wrangler.” He attended numerous PME schools, including Sensitive Site Exploitation and the Iraqi Arabic and Culture Course. After departing the Marine Corps Sean graduated from Temple University with a degree in history and is now (no shit) a high school teacher. When not teaching he continues to compulsively study foreign weapon systems, world affairs, and foreign policy. Groz is one of the biggest geardos the Mad Duo knows (which is really saying something). He is a wealth of information regarding all things Cordura, Steel, and COMBLOC.

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2 thoughts on “YWR: The UNION Series

  • May 18, 2015 at 3:51 am

    C.R.O.W. = Combat Recruit Of War.

    UK term for a FNG e.g. ‘Cherry’ or ‘Skin’ or ‘Boot’.

    “oi, Crow-bag! sort your life out”


    • May 21, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      Thanks R3! We didn’t know that. Good lookin’ out!


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