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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

KILL DECISION by Daniel Suarez

Great sci-fi always asks, "What if...?" and gives the reader something to think about.

Published in 2012 by Dutton (Penguin Group)

The premise behind Kill Decision is really quite simple: What if the concept of attack drones was re-thought a bit and instead of having them be small airplanes carrying big missiles, have them be the size of hobby-sized toy helicopters (about the size of a two year old person) and instead of spending almost $17 million per drone (according to Wikipedia) you spend just a few thousand dollars per drone and have them attack low and in close and in a swarm?

Think about it. Instead of one $17 million drone that fires a missile that may or may not hit its target,  let's say you have 170 $100,000 drones that swarm over an area using facial recognition software that already exists (the government uses more advanced versions of it but you may already be familiar with the simple recognition system Facebook uses to let you tag people and your digital camera may have it) to swarm over a GPS-targeted area and shoot every face that it finds in that area. Then imagine if they can be fitted with a variety of weapons such as guns, poison gas or plastic explosives so that some part of the swarm has the right tool for the job at hand.

All that is missing is the programming that enables this swarm to work together...

Three weaver ants working together to build a nest.
Photo by Karmesinkoenig
In Kill Decision, the programming is provided quite by accident by Linda McKinney, an expert in ants. To be more specific, she is an expert in weaver ants, an aggressive species that works so well together that some ask if the collective of all the ants should really be thought of as a single mind. McKinney has described their swarming behavior mathematically and when her research is stolen and applied to the swarm of small drones they become an almost unstoppable force that can overwhelm traditional defense systems on the cheap.

But, when McKinney is rescued/kidnapped right before a old-style single drone missile attack destroyed her research facility in Tanzania, her rescuers tell her that she was killed so her research could not be duplicated and her expertise could not be used to counter the swarm drone attacks. But, she does not know whether this odd group of soldiers and their enigmatic leader are truly what they say they are or if she is on the wrong side of this fight...

In the background of the main story is an ongoing story of the escalation of international drone warfare and a series of terrorist attacks in the United States that is fueling the drive to automate America's drone fleet and have them go on a perpetual hunt for America's enemies without having anyone actually having to  make the kill decision, or the decision to attack. 

This is a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi action adventure with just enough near-future realism to make everyone pause and wonder where our current policy of using attack drones may lead. It seems to me that all we are missing is the software. If you are a fan of Michael Crichton, you will enjoy this book.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez

Reviewed on January 28, 2014.

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