Home > Books > Contra Alliance: Shadows of the Past by Tom Kolega

Contra Alliance: Shadows of the Past by Tom Kolega

Ambition is wonderfully inspiring when you see it up close. There’s a fire that burns with such brightness, you almost believe anything is possible. In this instance, we have Tom Kolega launching a new “universe” on to the market. Essentially the team behind the Contra Alliance project intends a multimedia approach to the development of the storyline. The basic plan calls for two trilogies to set up the current situation on Earth and then run the history prequel. There will also be a comic series. The longer term hope is for the narrative to be carried over into either an animated series or live action movies. Indeed, there’s no reason in principle why this should not be diversified into a gaming platform. Nor is there any reason why the universe should not be licensed to others to develop. This could be through new authors drafted in to write some of the novels or associated short stories as with Thieves’ World or Wild Cards, or a games developer brought in.


What makes this project unusual is the launch with a developed “universe”. The routine approach is for an author, film-maker or games designer to come up with the first novel, film or game, assess the market potential based on the number of fans, and so plan to diversify more aggressively. This uses the established base of customers in one medium to develop into other media. So, for example, Games Workshop began with games and then, through the Black Library, developed into print with novels, magazines and graphic novels. Tom Kolega is trying to establish interest in this universe before there’s a volume of content by which to judge it. Indeed, there’s a case to be made that it’s actually unfair to reach a definitive judgement on the first novel until more of the back story is released. You can’t get a feel for the texture of a “universe” until you’ve seen more than one book. However, since we only have the one the play with — Shadows of the Past — I will offer a provisional view.

Tom Kolega, the creator of the Contra Alliance project


A prologue is always a tricky way to start. When the intention is to set the tone, it can be full of hints and ideas to whet the palate. The danger is that it shades over into exposition which can be clunky. It’s always better to get straight into the novel proper. If there’s to be backstory, we can do flashbacks when necessary. As to the prose, it’s functional. This is not, of itself, a criticism but there’s a stripped down approach to the storytelling. While I’m not necessarily an advocate of more descriptive styles in military SF, this is particularly Spartan. There’s also a tendency to use dialogue to infodump which disturbs the flow. More generally, it’s saddening to find a number of grammatical errors and oddities of meaning — like unseen doors that retract into the sides of the corridor walls. You always hope that a new publishing venture will manage to maintain professional standards.


As to the plot, the backstory is well-worn. Two civilisations have already fought an interstellar war. The demonic lot took a beating and withdrew. Time passed and now both sides have discovered our planet. So we have a fifth column story with the evil aliens on Earth to destablise the world as a feint, expecting the angels to defend our primitive civilisation. Obviously, the demonic leaders think their new technology, some of it stolen, can now beat the angels, particularly if the angels divide their forces by sending a part of the fleet to Earth.


We are set a few years into Earth’s future and there have been some changes. It’s now 2035 and the Chinese have flexed their muscles to annex Taiwan. Rather than defend its ally, the US regrouped. As a result of ducking the fight, it’s no longer seen as the hegemonic power. So Shadows of the Past is the first set of engagements between proxy forces. Representatives of the angels left as guardians have encouraged the training of special NATO forces. The demons are naturally relying on Earth’s dark side with drug pushers, the Mafia and other criminal gangs recruited and equipped through third parties. This sets the overall tone of good vs evil, black and white, with the only shades of gray being that the Three, who are the demons’ direct representatives when talking to the criminal underworld, are captured angels now working under mind control. There are odd moments when they understand what they have become, but they are powerless. Their fall from grace and humiliation are complete.


The book offers us a twin-track narrative. Our long-term hero is kicking his heels, having been dropped from the NATO forces because of an indiscretion. The remaining members of the special teams are sent out on various missions. Needless to say, our hero is brought back into the fold for the final battle in this book. The descriptions of the fighting are well done. There’s a clear eye at work and no confusion in the choreography of battle as each engagement develops. The weaponry is only slightly more advanced than available today and easy to understand. I’m not sure the aliens would need to rely on Earth’s EMP technology but, given the cost of transporting materiel over vast numbers of light years, I can understand why they would aim to source their equipment locally wherever possible. On balance, the overall plot is well judged and we have reached a good interim moment to break. There’s now an overt attack on major Earth transportation centres and some help on the way from the angels. So far, the evil alien’s plan is working, although not quite as smoothly as intended thanks to the NATO squads. Everything is quite nicely poised for the next book in the trilogy with more of the detail to be filled in with the launch of the comics later this year.


The physical book is quite handsome, with the decision to use comic art for the jacket modestly daring. Although the typesetting is somewhat uneven, the overall effect of the design is reasonably pleasing and it’s good value for money in today’s market for those who like unpretentious military SF starting off with an Earth invasion in the offing. As an eBook, it’s excellent value.


There’s just enough in this first episode to pique my curiosity and I wait with interest to see whether this early promise can be developed into a sufficiently strong narrative to support Tom Kolega’s ambitions.


A copy of this book was sent to me for a review.


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