Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Compleat Bolo, by Keith Laumer

I decided to start 2013 with a bang and review the first couple of books from the Bolo series by Keith Laumer. If you haven't watched my introduction video to the Bolo series, I suggest you go watch it first. I actually read The Compleat Bolo, which combines the first two books Bolo: Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade and Rogue Bolo into one anthology. Overall I enjoyed this book but I was not without a few disappointments with this story. Fortunately, this is just the beginning of a rather long series and it shows definite promise in these early, if rather old, novels.

As I mentioned, The Compleat Bolo actually contains two separate novels combined in an anthology. I found this a definite bonus because the earlier books in the Bolo series were written nearly forty years ago and can be very difficult to obtain. The Compleat Bolo, on the other hand, was published in 1990 and so it will probably be much easier for my readers to obtain. In addition I would recommend getting this book because it has more stories with the fully sentient bolos, which is what I was really interested in reading about. I had actually read Bolo: Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade before reading Compleat Bolo and was a little disappointed that the two largest stories in the novel didn't involve sentient bolos. (And in fact had very little to do with the bolos to be perfectly honest.) So if you're new to the series, like I am, I'd suggest getting The Compleat Bolo and starting there.

Once the stories started including sentient bolos, I really got into the stories. For whatever reason I really like these sentient tanks that are willing to risk their very existence for the sake of their human creators and masters. I will admit that it's a little unsettling that the bolos, which are sentient beings, are a kind of warrior slave for us humans, but I'm hoping that the relationship between humans and bolos in future books of the series is more developed and develops into a partnership rather than a master-slave dynamic. I also thought it was amazing that characters in the stories, as well as myself, could be touched by the sacrifices of these gargantuan war machines.

I do have a couple of issues with the book but I think they're more the teething issues of a new series rather than inherent problems. The first thing I noticed, especially since this is a collection of short stories rather than one book, was that there wasn't a lot of context provided for the stories. Yes, I ended up understanding the stories regardless of the context, but I would have enjoyed more information about the First Terran Empire, the Concordiat, and other organizations and their formation and organization. I was able to infer an amount of information from the stories, but I would have enjoyed more world-building and I hope to learn more from later books in the series.

The other problem I had was a couple of these short stories were actually a collection of documents or quotes from different people that show the development of a story over a period of time. While this is a legitimate means to tell a story and has been done elsewhere, I ended up not enjoying the stories as much because they felt disjointed in comparison to the more linear narratives. Again, I think this is more an issue with the series being relatively new in these books rather than a portent of future problems. Hopefully there will be more linear stories, from Keith Laumer at least, which make me love these honorable warrior tanks even more.

If you're a fan of sci-fi combat and really like tanks, like I do, then you really can't afford to let the Bolo series pass you by. The oldest books are readily available on Amazon and I highly recommend you at least get The Compleat Bolo and give it a try. I will definitely be reading more books from this series, which goes through a number of authors, and it will hopefully become a favorite series.

- Kalpar

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