Engaging, original, intriguing and accessible Science Fiction.
I’m a sucker for anything to do with dogs so how could I resist something that starts:
“My name is Rex. I am a good dog.”?
Ok, Rex is a partly dog-based bioform, engineered to carry out the kinds of acts of war that humans, even most bad humans, would flinch at, but that’s not his fault. He was made that way. The question is, will he stay that way?
“Dogs Of War” was my first Adrian Tchaikovsky book. I knew he’d won the Arthur C Clarke Award for his “Children Of Time”, which is in my mountainous TBR pile. Even so, I was surprised at just how good he is.
In this book, he delivers speculative fiction at its best. He handles complex ideas in interesting ways that are plausible without being predictable. He creates characters that I care about and who ground the big ideas in the personal and the immediate. He has a plot that unfolds in a way that is both seamless and exciting. And, of course, he has a character that’s at least half dog right at the centre of the action.
One of the big ideas being explored here is the evolution of intelligence. In one, action-packed novel, Tchaikovsky manages to tackle the emergence of an AI singularity, the impact of implants and bio-engineered enhancements on humans, dogs, bears, bees, lizards and dolphins. He deals with hive-minds, genius minds, immortal minds, evil minds and implant-enforced compulsion.
Through the lens offered by these differently intelligent characters, he explores the use of violence as an extension of politics, the need/ability to make moral choices rather than follow orders and the willingness of the powerful to strip personhood from anyone or anything when it suits their purpose.
What I liked most about the book is that it is centred on Rex’s journey from being used as a weapon by a war criminal who controls him via implants that reinforce his need to be a Good Dog to being a leader who has to decide whether or not he is a Good Dog. I particularly liked that Rex never becomes just a human in a dog suit or an anthropomorphized Old Yeller. He is a bioform who grows to understand his abilities, limitations and needs and tries to behave honourably. He builds friendships with Honey the genius and monstrous bear, he leads a pack, he defends those he believes should be defended and he struggles constantly not to give in to his desire for a Master.
I admired Tchaikovsky’s skill in being able to tell the story from multiple first-person points of view. He uses this to develop different perspectives on events, to engage me with multiple characters, and to add to the tension in the way the story is revealed. This structure lends itself well to an audiobook format with different narrators for different points of view. In the version I listened to, this worked very well and greatly improved my enjoyment of the book. The narrators were Nathan Osgood, Laurence Bouvard, William Hope
I’m now an Adrian Tchaikovsky fan. Thankfully, he’s quite prolific. I’ll be reaching for his “Children Of Time” novel next.