Thursday, 12 August 2010

Von Neumann's War - John Ringo & Travis S. Taylor

Von Neumann's War
-John Ringo & Travis S. Taylor

Mad scientist rednecks, super-soldiers and Hooters waitresses save the world. Yes; really.

“"We now have a clearer understanding of the threat. They're definitely Von Neumann machines and they're definitely consuming the surface of the rocky bodies in the solar system one by one. There is no indication that they will ignore the Earth. At present, no model that we have shows survival of the human race, or at least civilization, in the face of this threat. We're looking at end game for the ten-thousand year history of post-hunter-gatherer society, ladies and gentlemen."” (From CH12)

On the whole, this is a very strong book with a handful of minor nits, although I have mixed feelings about this book; it would have been a great deal better as a longer book, with the ideas present being much better developed. I am reminded of Priam’s Lens, by Jack L. Chalker; a book that would have been much better with all of the ideas being much more developed. The plot builds up…and then it ends; the effects might be global and worldwide, but we don’t really see them. In many ways, it is considerably less moving than Moonseed, which has a similar theme.

The basic plot involves an attack from outer space, this time in the form of small machines working to reform the entire solar system to their specifications. Naturally, these specifications don’t happen to include human life; as the quote above shows, humans are going to have to be very lucky to survive…

It’s quite a good book, although there are some minor nits; starting with the impossible level of secrecy that is maintained for ten chapters. Come on – this is a massive effect affecting (lol) ALL of Mars, which is one of the planets under fairly constant observation. There is NO WAY that this will a) pass unnoticed by the general world (as opposed to call-in shows), and b) remain unidentified as alien activity. Not only is Mars a dead world, in the public eye, but this is not some super-secret science, but something that has been discussed in open source for years. Even without the data from the probe, deducing the outline should be possible for anyone with a fair knowledge of sci-fi.

This leads to another point; governments have to seem to be in control and to be Doing Something, no matter how ineffective such action would really be. The Bush Administration has taken a lot of stick over its actions in the months after 9/11, but the truth was that they had to be seen to be Doing Something. With general knowledge of an alien attack, or at least a presence in the Solar System, something will have to be done.

(I’ve said a lot about my opinion on secrecy, vis-à-vis the opinions held by Doctor Taylor, in other places. There is a point where that becomes actively dangerous – in this case, it was when Mars was first detected to have been infected.)

“Project Asymmetric Soldier was put into play because it was decided that any invasion from space by the phenomenon would be extremely one-sided in the invaders' favor. Asymmetric Soldier was based on the concept of "asymmetric warfare." The general idea was to try to fight battles using your strengths against an enemy's weakness.” (CH8)

There are a lot of concepts I hope will be explored in later books, starting with the way-cool Asymmetric Soldier concept, something that is largely wasted here. It would have made more sense to use it against a more conventional threat (and you know you’ve read too much sci-fi when you start dismissing an alien invasion as a ‘conventional’ threat) rather than the machines, although it does provide part of the answer to defeating them. I have a feeling that part of the book was intended to showcase ideas from An Introduction to Planetary Defense (Travis Taylor et al); but in this circumstance few of the ideas can be really showcased. (A Operation Roswell, Operation Thunder Child/Operation Lightning Strike or a Footfall would serve this purpose much better.)

To conclude, this is a good book, but it builds up and ends way too quickly. The threat is simply too powerful to be handled in a detailed manner; it is not the Posleen Invasion, where we can fight them on the hills, the dales, and up and down the cities. It just seems to come screaming to a halt; there was a great deal of room for further development, much of which was passed over.

(And I would dearly like to know where the machines came from.)

Overall – eight out of ten.

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