War Stories from the Future

After finishing Burn-In, I decided to read this book since it also has a story from that novel’s co-author August Cole.

I thought it was one of the many books I got a review copy of and hadn’t reviewed yet, so I thought I’d chip another bit off that list.

It turns out it was just a freebie from the Atlantic Council, and you can get your free copy at the link below.

Review: War Stories from the Future, ed. August Cole, 2015.

Cover by Sam Cole

You don’t usually see a Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States of America introducing a science fiction anthology, but Martin Dempsey was just that. He has a master’s degree in English and praises sf not for its predictive abilities but its provocation and power to develop “the professional imagination” and as “a mental laboratory”.

The book proved weirdly appropriate for the age of COVID – at least as presented in the panicked minds of the Sanitary Dictatorship in charge of various countries and their propaganda organs.

A Visit to Weizenbaum” from Jamie Metzel gives us a story where the use of tailored bioweapons requires Isolation Soldiers. They live in very sealed compounds for 18 months, their bodies monitored for signs of infection and entertained with virtual reality systems. Unfortunately, the rest of the story isn’t that interesting. It’s a therapy session with a soldier missing his beloved Elizabeth.

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I know for regular readers of this blog it seems to have turned into a blog about William Hope Hodgson – and it largely has been for over a year.

There will be more Hodgson related stuff, but we’re entering a long spell without it, and, by coincidence, I have a brand new release to review.

I heard good things about the authors’ first novel, Ghost Fleet, with its depiction of a future war with China, on The Dead Prussian Podcast. However, I never got around to reading it. So, when Amazon had review copies of their second novel available, I asked for it.

Review: Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution, P. W. Singer and August Cole, 2020.

Cover by Albert Tang

In the America of ten or twenty years in the future, a large portion of the populace is under or unemployed due to increased automation.

The country still has a terrorist problem and not just with the Sons of Aleppo but with another movement that is determined to throw sand into the workings of society. They resent the automation software and hardware that society has become dependent on.

Special Agent Keegan of the FBI arrests a member of that plot and, in the interrogation, TAMS is introduced. It’s a Tactical Autonomous Mobility System robot. Its humanoid frame has impressive physical abilities, but its real benefit is its ability to access and correlate a lot of disparate information.

Political pressure has been brought to bear to test TAMS robots out for law enforcement, and Keegan gets ambiguous instructions from the FBI’s Deputy Director to do the right thing by the Bureau. Is that to ok the program or kill it with a bad report? There’s also a creepy tech billionaire, Shaw, who takes an interest in the project and who is very connected to the White House.

The first half of the novel is largely Keegan putting TAMs through its paces to see if it can be a real partner in investigations. The second half is the investigation and pursuit of a wide-ranging terrorist plot to discredit automation through various ingenious and lethal events. One plot twist was entirely predictable, but the authors pulled out a genuine surprise towards the end. Continue reading