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Kill Decision
Daniel Suarez
Dutton, 400 pages

Kill Decision
Daniel Suarez
Daniel Suarez is an independent systems consultant to Fortune 1000 companies. He has designed and developed enterprise software for the defense, finance, and entertainment industries. An avid gamer and technologist, he lives in California.

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SF Site Review: Freedom™
SF Site Review: Daemon

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A review by Nathan Brazil

'And they can change the public conversation if necessary, modify public perceptions -- rewrite reality in real time. It's impressive. They could make Mother Teresa into the devil and Adolf Hitler into Saint Francis of Assisi if they wanted to.'
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Novelists who enjoy a big success have something in common with rock stars. The big hit is usually followed by more of the same, which keeps the wheels on the bus rolling. But then comes the notoriously difficult third album. Daniel Suarez had his breakthrough with Daemon, and followed up with the equally exhilarating Freedom™. Both books gained him well deserved praise, including acknowledgement as the true successor to the late Michael Crichton, and accreditation as an equal to Tom Clancy. Now comes his third book, Kill Decision, which has no link to the previous books, other than that it also uses the evolution of near future tech as the basis for its plot. Specifically, the rise of autonomous airborne drones. These deadly war machines have been designed with the ability -- and authority -- to designate their own targets, including the choice of when to use lethal force. This is the kill decision of the title, and possibly the next big leap in warfare.

Not delving any deeper -- for now -- in the fascinating world of Daemon and Freedom™ is a brave, perhaps wise step. Any more than two books on the same theme becomes a series, and risks diluting the product with every iteration. Kill Decision is in many ways a more straightforward technological thriller than the author's previous works, and with a much tighter focus. Having said that, the concept of something that could completely alter the way that wars are fought is certainly big enough, and smart enough to keep company with its predecessors. The story centres on a deep cover special ops group led by an American soldier code-named Odin, whose mission brings him into contact with myrmecologist Linda McKinney, a scientist who studies the social structures of weaver ants. The gist of the plot is that persons unknown have taken McKinney's research, and used it as the basis of programming for what amount to swarms of autonomous drones; flying machines large and small that can be used to target any individual, asset or country, without the usual build up to hostilities, or conclusive evidence as to who ordered the attacks. The big plus of this, from the perspective of those controlling the drones, is that it allows anonymous warfare and the strong potential for a new arms race. Something that, in turn, could generate them billions of dollars. The big negative, for the perspective of everyone else, is that machines get to decide who lives and dies, with no human authority in direct control, or held accountable. This leads to scenes which were strongly reminiscent of the replicators from Stargate SG1, but whether this is a good or bad thing is down to personal preference. Mostly, the tech on display is handled in a realistic, seriously credible fashion. Some of the characterisation is a little off the shelf, but when the concept is the star this doesn't matter anywhere near as much as it would in a primarily character driven novel.

There were a couple of negatives. One being an unfortunate error of research, where Odin shaves off his beard and is described as not looking like the drummer in ZZ Top. The drummer in ZZ Top is named Frank Beard, and famously doesn't have one. The other problem, and the one that made me cringe, was Odin and McKinney striking up a romance. Daniel Suarez writes top notch tech thrillers, but Mills & Boon is definitely not his forte. Besides which, I expect better from him than to use this kind of unnecessary cliché. These small issues aside, the story trundles along at a nippy pace, delivering more than sufficient thrills, often in smart ways, and crucially, remains interesting to the end. If the author is aiming to break into movies, then Kill Decision would be easy to adapt into a steady, if a little predictable Summer blockbuster. But I have to say that if Daemon and Freedom™, as one, were to be filmed by someone such as Ridley Scott, the sheer scope of imagination would make it a classic. That is the difference.

In summary, I enjoyed Kill Decision and found that while it did not blow my socks off, it was still a highly entertaining, concept driven novel. It's well worth the price of admission. As difficult third albums go, it passes the test.

Copyright © 2012 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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