Rex is a bio-engineered dog designed for war, given limited autonomy to command his small troop of other creatures and sent out into the anarchy of the civil war raging through Mexico. His world is quite straightforward: kill enemies, don’t kill friends and obey orders. When it starts to become unclear who falls into which category, when communication with his Master breaks down, when he and his troops start developing beyond their parameters then things start to get very complicated.
Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Dogs Of War’ is one of those books that captured me immediately, drawing me in with its gripping depiction of Rex’s missions in Mexico and his burgeoning conscience. His troop consists of a huge bear, an adapted monitor lizard and a distributed intelligence composed of a swarm of bees.
It’s amazing how attached one can become attached to a swarm of bees. When Rex decides that a village of civilians should be protected rather than destroyed, it brings him into conflict with his Master, the mercenary running the war on behalf of various corporate interests. The conflict is at times brutal but also touching, with acts of heroism and unknowing kindness as the bioforms struggle to come to terms with what they have done and with their own programming.
There’s a change of gear as the story moves forward to war crimes tribunals, internment camps for bioforms and introspection as Rex misses the days when he could just obey orders and not worry about anything else. There’s a lot here that’s thought-provoking, dealing with rights, intelligence, humanity and responsibility. The bioforms of Rex’s squad and the many other packs of war dogs are not the only experimental beings in existence. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s world develops into more fascinating directions as the consequences of the war and the future of artificially created beings are debated.
The prose flows along briskly, taking the story rapidly through numerous upheavals and changes in fortune. The bioforms are used, then feared, wanted, mistrusted and accused of being abominations. For a simple creature like Rex, much of it is too hard to understand. Gradually, his horizons broadened, helped by Honey the bear and other more advanced models. It’s a wonderfully addictive book, full of excitement and pathos.
Similar to ‘Children Of Time’, Adrian Tchaikovsky has done a brilliant job of making his bioform characters relatable. Not necessarily making them human after all. In ‘Children Of Time’, it was intelligent spiders but portraying them in a realistically convincing way, developing their natural traits in new directions and seeing how they would react as they gain knowledge of the world and clash with human society.
‘Dogs Of War’ is a touching, adrenaline-filled book. The characters, whether dogs, bears or bees, are wonderfully developed and relatable. It’s a book I thoroughly enjoyed and would definitely recommend.
Gareth D Jones
(pub: Head Of Zeus. 348 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78669-390-7)
check out website: www.headofzeus.com