Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bolo Strike, by William H. Keith, Jr.

Hey, look, Kalpar's reviewing another one of the Bolo books. Is anyone surprised in the least? Anyone at all? No? Okay, good. On with the review.

So I'm continuing my march through the full-length Bolo novels and actually coming towards the end of my endeavor. This particular book, Bolo Strike, is another production of William H. Keith, Jr. and is set some five hundred years after the fall of the Concordiat of Man and the end of the Final War with the Melconians. A new human government known as the Confederation has once again emerged and continues to use the redoubtable Mark XXXIII Bolos. In this particular instance a human-colonized world known as Caern has recently been rediscovered by Confederacy traders. However, the humans of Caern worship and are ruled by an alien species known as the Aetryx whom they venerate as gods. The exact relationship between humans and Aetryx is never really understood, but the Confederacy decides that no outpost of humanity, no matter how small, is going to be ruled by alien life forms and creates a task force to liberate the human population, including dozens of Mark XXXIII Bolos. However, the invasion does not go as planned, especially when the Aetryx begin sending Mark XXXII Bolos at the Confederation forces. Although outdated and unequal in firepower to a XXXIII, the XXXII's pose a significant threat in numbers, especially because if nothing else it means the Aetryx have been able to override the security protocols in a Bolo's programming.

The action in this book is all the glorious pulp I've come to this series, but it actually takes a back seat to some of the questions that are raised in this series, specifically what it means to be human and what counts as human. In the universe of this particular book, although it's definitely possible for a complete human mind to be copied and downloaded into a computer, humans almost universally see it not as immortality but as an illegitimate copy. That somehow that electronic copy of yourself is inherently less valuable than the flesh and blood version. And there's not really any debate on this point either, it's strongly outlined in black and white. Personally I feel like it raises an interesting question and a dilemma, especially when there are several copies of one person's memories running around, all convinced they're the original. I just wish the rationale behind an electronic copy not counting came to more than because it's not the original. Maybe it's a little much to expect a deep and thoughtful discussion about something like this in what's essentially a silly pulp novel, but pulp novels can talk about serious stuff too.

Another question I found myself asking was if the humans were really any better than the Aetryx, which was something that came up in Book Six: Cold Steel. As my readers may remember, that book dealt with the Tersae, a race of warriors who had been genetically engineered by their creators and forced into fighting humanity, a rather losing proposition when Bolos are involved. The question becomes are the humans really any better in creating mechanical monstrosities and then sending them into battle to fight and die for our needs, only to put them back into storage when the war's over and there's no need for them anymore? When the Aetryx do something similar to their human followers, it casts them forever as the villains, but it really just made me wonder if what humanity does to the Bolos is really fair. After all, these are fully self-aware beings. Who mass several thousand tons and are bristling with weapons, but self-aware nonetheless. And yet the Bolos are seldom to never given a say, and in fact can never feel things which we don't want them to feel because their programming simply doesn't include it. Humanity's treatment of its strongest protectors feels inherently unfair to me, but it's never really explored. And perhaps it can't be because Bolos can't see their relationship with humanity as anything other than proper because they're programed to be that way. It raises a lot of questions but never really gets a proper treatment.

Other than the questions I have, this book is all right. I don't have any serious complaints about it, but by this point in the series it's starting to just blend in with a lot of the other books. The challenge with the Bolo series is probably keeping it fresh because there's only so many tank battles you can do before you have to come up with something original. And this may be why I suspect the series ends eventually, because most of the ideas are exhausted and there's just no new ground to cover.

- Kalpar

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