(2017) Adrian Tchaikovsky, Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, 346pp, ISBN 978-1-78-669588-4
Before we start you need to know that Rex is a good dog...
Dogs of War is a military science fiction novel from Adrian Tchaikovsky. It tells a tale of private corporation funded armies deployed into war torn areas to protect corporate assets. Of course, the best defence is a good offense. So, if employing soldiers is expensive and artificial intelligence is unreliable, where do you go next? To man's best friend, of course. Here we have recruits who are loyal, unquestioning, effective - with a few mechanical and biological upgrades, cheap and with no pesky 'human rights' issues. You can design your perfect 'dog soldier'.
So that brings us to Rex, leader of a highly specialised team, loyal without fault to his master. But he keeps getting communication black outs and has to learn to think for himself. In the absence of orders from Master, how do you define the enemy? Once you have worked out how to think for yourself who the enemy should be, how you should behave, how do you go back to blindly following orders?
Tchaikovsky delicately guides us through the morality of warfare, asking questions through his protagonist. When is it or isnít it acceptable to use deadly force? Are those who follow orders morally responsible for the outcome? Through Rexís naivety we see our own limited comprehension of what happens in our world today, never mind where the future could take us. When war is far away from us, we are able to turn our eyes from it, support the troops while not being faced with the horrors. We turn off the news or become desensitised to it. But Rex has no such luxury, he has to decide right now whether people die by his actions, right now he has to take responsibility for other peopleís lives. Rex himself asks the reader to judge him by constantly questioning his own decisions.
Casting the protagonist not human asks the reader to redefine what their view of humanity, who should have rights and what defines a valued life. This is very relevant today, with the British governmentís decisions bringing this discussion into the spot light, but also as advances in technology go on, the topic of artificial intelligence is also very relevant.
Dogs of War is a chilling portrayal of the future, but humanised, ironically, by the lovability of the primary character, Rex. It is for Rex that we worry, laugh with and cry for as the story unfolds. He is not perfect and makes some decisions that leave us wanting to shout at the book, but, without too many spoilers, we keep with him to the end.
The book goes at a good pace, the action is fast and flows well, it is incredibly easy to read. Tchaikovsky demonstrates, yet again, that he is an excellent storyteller whether in fantasy or science fiction.
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