Sunday, November 25, 2012
Book Review: Ergo the Drone
In 2054, the slavery of socialism, communism, and terrorism are looking to stamp out freedom. The Central Planning Committee has assumed control of the nation's western governments, while a Caliphate fights communism in the East. The only refuge for freedom is found in the heartland of the United States, which has seceded from the CPC, and on the artificial island of Haven. Unfortunately, the former capitalist haven of the powerful Emerson Corporation is also being corrupted by the unchecked growing power of the Corporation’s President, David Emerson. Confronted with the revelation about the Corporation’s attempts at control, a young man, familiar with nothing but the comfort he has grown up in within the organization, must decide how far he is willing to go to confront what he has always known. In his battle to put the pieces of information together for a small resistance group, the young man gains a growing distaste for the organization’s new lust for power and its disinterest in the sanctity of both human and alien life in the quest to get that power. Ultimately, he must decide whether he will fight for true freedom and justice or sit back and live in the false ease of this growing tyranny...
Review: 4 of 5
In Ergo the Drone, Jeremy Dooley has written an engaging and insightful story about one possible future of mankind. Combining elements of The Last Starfighter, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Atlas Shrugged, and weaving in scenes reminiscent of Die Hard and even Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,* Dooley narrates a very enjoyable tale, which, while holding the reader fast through 300 pages, ultimately fails to to satisfy. Exactly how will be explored below.
The near future imagined in Ergo the Drone is a dark future but perhaps not at all an unlikely one, as Dooley has done well what few of the best sci-fi writers even attempt: he has a told a story in which the people act like people really act and have always acted. Neither education nor intellect nor environment is protection against the innate corruption of the human soul: in fact, each of those presents a particular temptation to its wielder. Dooley has captured this dichotomy perfectly: competition brings out the best in humanity, winning often brings out the worst. Excellence in performance is to be aspired to and even rewarded, even while it lays the performer open to danger. As CS Lewis noted, you don't make demons from cows, but from angels.
While being explicitly free-market (and implicitly Christian) in orientation, Dooley's tale recognizes that it is human nature first to make a god out of the market, then to try to improve that god's performance by making choices for others. “Ye shall be as gods” is a siren-song that few can resist, especially when their mastery and control of technology makes them the functional equivalent of most of what humanity naturally worships.
I do have a few nitpicks, however. The first is that the book is poorly edited, especially for a self published work that aspires to (and occasionally reaches) professional quality. Interest is usually “piqued” and not “peaked.” There is a difference between “secession” and “succession.” And it is highly unlikely that blacks following the fall of the United States will continue to be referred to by the unwieldy moniker “African-American,” especially when they live on an island with pretensions of being something more than a mere nation.
Secondly, while Miles is a strong main character, he lacks two things. First, he needs to be more underhanded. His character transformation is from a hyper-competitive, utterly selfish fighter jock who winds up risking everything to possibly no reward at all. And while Dooley's background includes characters to whom he has acted unfairly in the past, we need to see that character flaw – or at least see him struggle with that flaw – in a context that matters. One stolen kill from Autumn could have been parlayed to great effect later in the story. Secondly, he needs a more fitting motivation to join a rebellion that might result in the death of Miles' lifelong hero. Yes, Miles struggles with his choice, but since he has little emotional attachment to the goals of the rebellion, there seems to be very little reason why he should even bother.
As I said, those are nitpicks, and would in no way keep the book from 5 stars. What does, and what makes the book in the end unsatisfying, is that it's probably Volume I of a multi-volume work, and yet there is no indication to the reader that this is the case. That there are more volumes forthcoming explains why the free-market oriented Western Alliance serves as a haven for Haven's refugees and yet is otherwise ignored. It explains Emerson's cryptic remark that Miles has a genetic twin living there. It explains the final twist, in which the story resolves nothing, merely moving Haven into column of totalitarian states, taken over by a combination of Red Storm Rising's chekists and That Hideous Strength's N.I.C.E. The final twist, which deftly avoids the obvious plot and power hole that would be created had Miles succeeded, necessarily leads to a second book, in which the stakes are higher and yet the same. A mere “Volume I of the Haven Chronicles” on the cover might have avoided the inevitable letdown that the reader shares with a failed, though free, Miles Dawson.
Overall, Ergo: the Drone is one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year. I highly recommend it.
* Though it's conceivable I'm the only reader who expected the unstoppable missiles flying at the Wallace while it hovered over a seemingly-abandoned planet to transform into a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias.
DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this review.