Dogs of War

By Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating: 4 stars

Rex just wants to be a good dog. He wants to please his Master. If that involves using his seven-foot frame, razor-sharp teeth and attached machine guns to intimidate, maim and kill then that’s what he’ll do, leading his multi-form squad of Dragon (lizard), Honey (bear) and Bees (er, bees) in battle. Unfortunately, it turns out that Master is a war-criminal. What happens when Rex and his squad slip their leash and escape?

This book packs a huge number of ideas into a relatively small size. From the culpability of the enhanced animals, to slavery, to artificial and distributed intelligence, Tchaikovsky keeps the pace going, the ideas coming and the characters sympathetic. Not Master (aka Jonas Murry). He’s possibly the fictional character I’ve most wanted to see dead within a page of meeting. But Rex and his colleagues are just wonderful creations. Honey is over-engineered and gains far more intelligence that she was expected to. Rex comes to rely upon and trust her. The distributed intelligence that is Bees is a fascinating idea. And as for Rex himself, he’s absolutely adorable. All he ever wants to be is a Good Dog. Even when you realise that he’s killing civilians at the orders of Master, he retains your sympathy.

And a definite tip of the hat to Tchaikovsky here, as much of the book is first person from Rex’s perspective, and seeing Rex’s voice evolve over the course of the book is fantastic. When we first meet him, he’s got little vocabulary and limited cognitive capacity, which is reflected in his writing style. As the book goes on, and Rex is forced into more leadership decisions and has to evolve his thinking, his narrative and vocabulary become correspondingly more complex as well. It’s very well written.

I think the idea towards the end of the book of humans getting hierarchy chips was not entirely unexpected, but the horror for came in those who were arguing that they weren’t a bad idea; in effect arguing for the return of slavery. And the idea of the top of the hierarchy being the corporation, and not a single individual was inspired (and terrifying).

Don’t let anyone tell you any differently, Rex, you are the best boy!

Book details

ISBN: 9781786693907

Children of Time

By Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating: 4 stars

The Earth in the distant future has been rendered uninhabitable, and its last inhabitants flee in an ark ship cobbled together using what remnants of ancient technology that they could recover towards a planet that was, according to the old star maps, terraformed for them and awaiting their arrival. However, when they arrive, they find that they’re not alone and their paradise planet has more than they bargained for.

It took me a while to get into this book, although that was partly my fault, as I took advantage of the relatively short chapters to read it in small doses, when I think it really needed a longer run. Throughout, I was definitely rooting more for the green planet’s inhabitants than the humans on the Gilgamesh. Apart from our POV character, Holsten Mason, the ship’s classicist, none of the others were particularly sympathetic, although chief engineer Lain comes close. I did like the idea that a starship would have a classicist amongst its Key Crew though. The technology that they’re relying on, and that terraformed the planet was from a civilisation long gone, so they need him to translate – like having a Latin scholar in a time travel story about ancient Rome, I suppose.

I found the chapters following the spiders to be the most enjoyable, as we stepped forward in time, seeing their species and civilisation evolve from primitive hunters to something that can build space elevators and has a ring around their world. And I must confess that I didn’t see the end coming. The clash of the two species looked like meaning that genocide of one was inevitable, and the last-minute swerve to avoid it blindsided me entirely, in a good way. The end was uplifting and hopeful and, once I thought about it, entirely in keeping with both the spiders’ technology, and the entire span of their history.

It was nice to see Kern get some redemption towards the end of the book as well. She started as intensely arrogant and unlikeable, then went a bit mad so I was pleased to see her ‘recovery’ into something more likeable and helpful later on. Also, ant colonies as computers! That’s a fabulous idea.

So lots to like here, but don’t be fooled by the short chapters – I’d definitely recommend setting aside blocks of time and reading chunks at a time.

Book details

Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Year of publication: 2015

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