Now, finally available to read without having to buy a collection with some much more questionable content - I present you with what I feel to be a classic Peter Watts 'Military SF' (this definitely deserves the quotes with Peter) story Collateral.
This was originally published in the collection Upgraded, edited by Neil Clarke, but was now also re-published in Lightspeed Magazine and is also available from Peter's own Rifters site.
It is a stand-alone story following an augmented soldier after she has killed a number of apparent civilians on a fishing trip (on an ecologically dead sea...), which turned into a political shitstorm and could not be swept under the carpet. So now her assignment is to play along in damage limitation activities in the public eye, whilst her reflexes, her ethics, her morals, and other parts of her personality involved in battlefield engagements are being 'optimised'. It's not pretty, it has its surprises, and it is very well done.
This has strong echoes of both Malak (Peter's story of Drone warfare and free will) and of his anti-hero Achilles Desjardins from his Starfish trilogy - both of which I strongly recommend to read if you haven't done so.
The amazing picture on the right comes from Staffprod Staffpub via a Pinterest collection.
I don't think I need to greatly introduce the American author Ann Leckie here – her debut novel Ancillary Justice won most of the major awards on the scene, and introduced her as a major new voice in the field. Ancillary Mercy is the final book in the trilogy (the middle one is called Ancillary Sword), and shares both the title structure (and there's some clever allusions in these) and the cover artwork (all three are parts of the same painting. Clever, again).
Ancillary Mercy picks up where Ancillary Sword left off – Breq is still on Athoek Station, barely over the events at the end of the previous book, and the next round of 'fun' is alrady kicking off. It starts off with the discovery of an Ancillary from a pre-Radchaai ship on the station, something which is as impossible as it is alarming. It gets better with the arrival of another Presger translator, Zeiat (after convincing her that she cannot be Dlique as Dlique is dead), and tops off with the expected coming of Anaander Mianai, the lord of the Radch empire, who has split into factions and is at war with herself.
And if this is not enough major pieces on the board for some serious storytelling (and some action) then we can add Breq's rather unconventional take on ships and stations and their AI (given that she is/was a ship) to throw curve balls.
Let's just say there's much more going on here than the drinking of tea, or the Raadchai obsession with wearing gloves.
Political infighting and activism escalated to open warfare, with the state playing the 3rd party in the ring? Exploration robots attaining sentience/self-awareness, downing tools and taking up weapons? A heady mix of Virtual Reality, Real Life, and rather blurred distinctions of which is which? Ken MacLeod is at it again, indeed, and I have to admit that I’ve been lapping it up.
But let’s start at the beginning, seeing that The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, kicks off with a bang. Actually, it kicks off with rather a lot of bangs, as we witness two political/terrorist organisations slugging it out with each other and the state over London, using robot tanks, military drones, and planes loaded with ordnance. And we witness Carlos the Terrorist, fighting for the Acceleration, being duped by his state handler, and then killed…
“At the fag-end of the twenty-first century, immortality was the only thing worth dying for.”
Just to find himself revived in a VR simulation, and told that he’s dead, and has been for over a millennium. Also that he is still under death sentence, for the Docklands atrocity he’s committed (which he cannot remember). But he’s in a simulation of a terraformed world far away from Earth, which itself is running on a computer on a space station orbiting said, yet non-terraformed planet. And he’s going through military exercises in the forest, together with a group of fellow Axle War Criminals, to prepare for a conflict with prospecting robots which have attained self awareness, or consciousness, due to an unfortunate series of events. But of course it cannot be that simple…
And now for something completely different, to say it with Monty Python. Actually, this is not true - this is a different form, but rather in line with many other of my posts here.
So - I would like to introduce you to a poem, poetically (er) titled Brown woman at Safety Beach, Victoria, In June, by the illustrator, writer, and poet M Sereno. M Sereno was born in Manila, but now lives in Australia with family and pets, including, according to her, a cat which thinks it's a Koala. I'll just leave this here...
I find the poem rather evocative, and full of both mystery and strength, but would suggest you see (and feel) for yourself. It was first published in the May/June edition of Uncanny Magazine, which is also where the links sprinkled around this article point for the poem, and where the picture on the right hand side comes from.
Could I suggest that, after reading M Sereno's poem, you have a look at the magazine (much recommended in my opinion) and see if this is something you would consider supporting?
What can I tell you about Warren Ellis? The mad hermit from the Thames Delta, cranking out magnificent streams of comics scripts, film scripts, books, late-night mixtapes (look up Spektrmodule), and brain-scrambling edicts in his Morning.Computer newletter? He’s the author of the NYT best-selling novel Gun Machine, the writer behind the graphic novel RED, now also a Bruce Willis/Helen Mirren - starring movie, of award-winning graphic novels like Transmetropolitan, Ministry of Space, and of course the brain behind the beloved Freakangels web-graphic-novel-serial.
But enough about the man - if he isn’t on your radar already then you have some catching up to do!
So. What can I tell you about this (short) story, called Elektrograd: Rusted Blood? It is, in first approximation, a Police Procedural, or maybe rather a Detective Story. And whilst the Detectives - old, mind-game playing Inspector Ervin Strauss, his sidekick, the ambitious up-and-coming Sargeant Alia Noton, and rookie Constable Isaac Goldmark - are decidedly human (and so appears the murder victim to have been), the story itself is entirely circling the story of the first robot. Because Barbel Thaler, the (now) ex-Private Investigator, was found close to the former Meeting-Hall of the Philosophic Society, where in 1939 Dr. Wilhelm Rosetta first presented his Electrical Man. Things went wrong - the Electrical Man had a mind of his own, got out, was shot by Police, and Rosetta died of a Heart Attack in the chaos. Nobody ever found his laboratory, his notes, or the other two robots…
What do you do if you were born in Israel, and have grown up on a Kibbutz, which you left to travel at the age of 15? If you have lived in South Africa, Laos, Vanatu, the UK, and many places in-between since? Lavie Tidhar’s answer is that you write about what used to be home - about Israel, and about what the future brings. Actually, that’s quite unfair. He has written about topics as far and wide as he has travelled, he has headed up the award-winning World SF Blog, has edited the first 3 instalments in the Apex Book of World SF series, and has published a long list of novels, collections, novellas, graphic novels, and non-fiction of his own writing. I guess the one thing you really cannot accuse him of is being a white, male, and UK/US centric writer. OK, he cannot help the male bit, but I’m sure you see what I mean!
But to come back to it - for Central Station, the novel/collection at hand, he returned his focus to the country, or at least the area, he was born and brought up in.
The Central Station of the title is a spaceport, a huge edifice reaching up towards the Stratosphere, providing a landing spot for the traffic coming in from the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid belts, and more exotic, ‘frontier’ type locations. It stands over and links the twin cityscapes of Arab Jaffa and Jewish Tel Aviv, and seems to have accumulated its own diaspora of immigrants from Africa and Asia at its base; what we find in the stories are families of mixed heritage, who have been here for generations, who helped build Central Station, and whose lives are intertwined with it.