In the future there will be cybertanks with sentience patterned on the human brain and personalities, too. Our hero is an Odin-Class Ground Based Cyber Defensive Unit serial number CRL345BY44. The human used to call him Carl, based on the serial number, and he didn’t like it. His peers call him ‘Old Guy’ because he’s been around a couple of thousand years. He’s 30 metres wide by 60 metres long with a 100 cm bore plasma cannon that can sheer the top off a mountain.
He also controls a lot of secondary and tertiary systems like drones, remote sensors and a satellite network. He’s powered by two fusion reactors and it would take a fusion bomb to destroy him. He manufactures his own robot helpers but has a nostalgic fondness for human-shaped androids. His favourite model is based on Amelia Earhart, the American aviation pioneer. The nostalgia for humans is because they have all gone. No one knows where. The cyber tanks and other machines were all getting on with their jobs and never took much notice of mankind until one day someone noticed they were no longer there.
Mankind had spread out into the galaxy and bumped heads occasionally with other species. There are 100,000 of Old Guy and his ilk and they still have the odd tussle with aliens. As the book commences, he is on guard and maintenance duty on a backward planet. A giant radioactive lizard shows up and tries to kill him. He survives and goes on to fight a war with the Amok, a deadly nano species capable of assuming many different shapes. Then he is mysteriously transported to another dimension where there are wizards, orcs and dragons. When he gets back home he is sent to explore another backward planet and finds the ruins of an ancient alien civilisation, along with a really big cat. Old Guy has a reputation among his peers for finding trouble in the most ordinary places.
The book is episodic, a series of adventures that might have been written as short stories, but the background is large and well-wrought and I suspect the different elements will someday coalesce into a larger narrative. Perhaps they have already for there are now five books about the cybertank. Old Guy is a great character and so are his pals. Based on human sentience, they are very human, albeit with enormous metal bodies, vast databases and incredible industrial capacity. Old Guy does a lot of thinking and philosophising and, with such a vast database of knowledge, he often refers to human history to consider things, even history that hasn’t happened yet such as the burning of Neo-Liberal economists atop a pyre of their own works. I’m looking forward to that.
There really is no way to give a flavour of this in a review. It’s clever, far-ranging, witty, full of invention and has a hugely engaging lead character. Timothy J. Gawne explores the fun possibilities of Science Fiction in a way that Douglas Adams might envy for this is humour with intelligence behind it. Timothy J. Gawne has a degree in electronic engineering from M.I.T. and a PhD in Physiology, too. He’s also done a post-doctoral fellowship at the Laboratory of Neuropsychology at the NIH. This ain’t no dummy we’re talking about here. Furthermore, there are serious and moving events mixed in with all the adventure. Old Guy even has a baby!
One advantage of reading SF magazines, even the little ones, is that you get to sample new authors. If you don’t like them, well a short story hasn’t taken too much out of your life. If you do like them you can pursue it. I very much enjoyed ‘Planiform’, a humorous short story by the author in the December 2016 issue of ‘Perihelion SF’ and on the strength of that bought this for 99p on kindle to see what it was like. I’m glad I did.
(pub: Ballacourage Books, 2012. 192 page 620kB kindle ebook. Price: £ 0.99, $ 1.24 (US). ASIN: B00AB068X2)