Loved Daniel Suarez' forthcoming book, Kill Decision

I had the privilege of getting an advance reading copy of +Daniel Suarez' new book, Kill Decision. Like his previous books, Daemon and Freedom, it includes a terrific mix of thrills and mayhem, big ideas, and well-founded technological and social speculation. This is the kind of mind-expanding novel that uses entertainment to make powerful, important points about alarming current trends; the novel as cautionary tale has rarely been better executed.

Kill Decision focuses on the very real possibility of drone warfare, carried out by autonomous swarming drones independent of human supervision. But it's not just the drones that operate without supervision: the book is all too accurate in its depiction of a profit-driven corporate military-industrial complex that feeds on society, manipulating public opinion to sell wars that we don't need in order to fund massive new military spending.

To anyone who's watched the revolving-door fortunes made from the security theater carried out by the Transportation Security Administration (link), the notion of defense contractors managing threat levels to drive weapons appropriations makes all too much sense. If you doubt, Suarez includes a bibliography of non-fiction books that explore and document this same point.

As one of the characters, entomologist and swarm intelligence expert Linda McKinney, notes,

"Her childhood experiences had taught her one thing above all: that the world was not filled with danger. Danger was there sometimes, but it wasn't the norm. The common thread she'd found in every culture was that the majority of people were decent and simply wanted to raise their children in peace. That basic desire was what linked us all.

"Which was why America's recent, all-encompassing fear puzzled McKinney. She felt like someone who'd returned from a long, inspiring journey only to discover that an old friend had gone crazy-paranoid. She barely recognized what America had become."

The notion that this fear is driven not just by external enemies (and the book doesn't deny that real enemies and real threats exist) but by those who profit by amplifying it runs like a current through this book, as does the notion that it is a core of decent people who recognize this problem and stand up to fight it.

Most alarming is the book's realistic depiction of just how much of our national security has been outsourced to companies with a profit interest that may not align with our own national best interest. While many might think this is overdrawn (and perhaps it is, in an "if this goes on" way), it's worth reminding people that this is indeed how Rome fell. Unless you've read more deeply in Roman history than most, you imagine a horde of barbarians overrunning the empire. In fact, Rome had outsourced its security to these barbarians: Odoacer, the "barbarian" who ended the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, had been enrolled as a Roman general. (Alaric the Goth, who sacked Rome in 410 AD, was also in the pay of Rome at the time. He sacked Rome when the coffers were empty and the empire was no longer able to pay.)

There are fascinating bits of science and technology throughout the book, from myrmecology (the study of ants), the intelligence level of ravens, to social media monitoring (and sockpuppetry) for surveillance and manipulation, as well as how easy it is to track and spoof cell phones. Most of these are explained with a fair degree of accuracy and a great deal of plausibility. And anyone who's seen the swarming drones demo from TED [link] can easily understand just how near-future swarming drones might be.

There's a lot of social insight and discussion as well. There's one bit about the relationship between modes of government and modes of warfare that I'm so tempted to quote because of its deep insight, but which is too close to heart of the book's argument to make me want it to stand alone.

I love the deep, humane sensibility that underlies Suarez' thinking. He holds great debates between some of the characters about what makes people tick, and the voice that runs through the book is admonitory but fundamentally affirming of human goodness.

To one who argues that it's all about survival of the fittest, McKinney replies:

"There is a great deal more to evolutionary biology than survival of the fittest -- although that's all that anyone seems to remember. One of Darwin's contemporaries was Alfred Russell Wallace, who had even more profound lessons about evolution -- that humans are social creatures. That we co-evolve with other species as part of a fabric of interwoven and interdependent life forms. The world isn't entirely about competition and dominance. And species that cooperate with others succeed better than those who do not. That's what civilization is, cooperation."

The book is a great read, with appealing characters, non-stop action, and a great story. It's not as mind-blowing as Daemon, but it's a lot closer to reality. Highly recommended. Actually, I'd go further and put it in the "must read" pile.
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