Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bolo! and Old Soldiers, by David Weber

This week I'm knocking out two books at once and have come at last to the end of the Bolo series. So alas there will no longer be any more posts with me squealing about giant robot tanks and how awesome I think they are. Technically there is one more book, Their Finest Hour: Best of the Bolos, but that is an anthology of previous stories which I have already read and so I probably am not going to be reviewing it here. The reason I'm tackling two books today is that Bolo! specifically is a collection of four short stories written by David Weber, and three of them have been published before in other Bolo anthologies. The only new story is With Your Shield, which actually is sort of a prologue for the full-length novel Old Soldiers, and gives backstory for the main human character, Maneka Trevor. I'm also aware that I already talked about the other main work of Weber's that I've been reading last week, but I assure my readers that this blog isn't going to turn into just another David Weber fan club. ...I hope.
Anyway, the plot of both of these books is set during the Final War, an event that looms large in more than a few of these books. For anyone who hasn't read any of my other reviews of these books: the Concordiat of Man and the Melconian Empire, through a failure of diplomacy and a battle where neither side was sure who shot first, get engaged in a galaxy-spanning war. The Concordiat has a technological edge, including the mighty Bolos, but the Melconians aren't too far behind and have sheer numbers which more than offset humanity's edge. As the war continues, it escalate into a genocidal campaign known as Operation Ragnarok, where both humans and Melconians begin burning each other's planets to cinders, both sides hoping that the enemy will run out of planets before they do. As the war drags on the Concordiat realizes they've grossly underestimated the size of the Melconian Empire and there's a very good chance humanity is going to lose, even with the Bolos on their side. This begins plans for Operation Seed Corn, an attempt by the Concordiat to send human colonization fleets beyond the explored edges of the galaxy to ensure that humanity, in some form at least, will continue to exist.

Included in this expedition are an aging Mark XXVIII Bolo, named Lazarus, and his commander, Maneka Trevore, both the only survivors of their unit from a Melconian attack on Chartes. Both are suffering from survivor's guilt and will have to work together so they can protect one of humanity's attempt to ensure something survives beyond the Final War.

I will admit that I'm not as huge a fan of Final War stories because it ultimately results in the fall of the Concordiat and the Melconian Empire in a final maelstrom of destruction. Granted, there are stories showing at least fragments of both sides surviving afterwards, but it's small comfort considering what we lose in the process. The writing is fairly good and at least in this one I didn't notice too much extraneous exposition, but that may just be me and my usual love for exposition. What I liked about both these stories the most, though, is that Weber was able to answer a question which had been raised in earlier books and had never really been answered to my satisfaction. Previous books had raised the question is it really right for humanity to create sentient beings that exist merely to fight and die on our behalf? The Bolos are fully-developed people. They have personalities, idiosyncrasies, they make jokes, they have friends, and in a way they can also know fear. Is it truly just for humanity to create a race that you could very well call slaves to do all our fighting for us?

Previous books had raised this question before and had sort of glossed over it or not really looked into it very deeply. And it made me wonder if maybe the Bolos actually resented us for making them our warriors. However, in this book Weber actually manages to answer the question to my satisfaction through the voice of Lazarus. See, Bolos are aware that they exist to fight and die on the behalf of their creators, but they don't see that as a bad thing. Bolos respect humans because humans created them far better than humans could ever hope to be. A Bolo after all is a building-sized weapons platform capable of standing up to fusion warheads and an ability to make decisions in milliseconds. No human could ever hope to out-perform a Bolo on the battlefield. But more importantly, humans made Bolos the epitome of honor, duty, obligation, and other ideals that humanity constantly strive and often falls short of achieving. Bolos believe that humanity has made Bolos better than humanity could ever hope to become, and they feel not only honored by this decision, but an obligation to protect their creators. And the humans have not failed to appreciate this, either. Even though a human commander will probably have very little they can accomplish from the cockpit of a Bolo, humans still ride in Bolos out of an obligation to share the risk with their armored protectors and ensure they do not fight alone.

Although this book has some really sad parts, it has what I thought was a very touching and appropriate ending for the Bolo series as a whole, with hope for the future of mankind. As much as I hate to have finished this series, I'm also very glad I read it as well.

- Kalpar

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