Saturday, October 16, 2010

an uncannily prescient look at the future of war

Hailed by genre critics and those of the more traditional literary sort, Adam Roberts’ New Model Army is a fascinating read about a world that’s not really that far away.
Although this is technically science fiction, the premise of Roberts’ story – that a mercenary army can be run without a hierarcy of officers via the internet – is an almost realised prediction in the modern age of terrorist cells created from web pages, weapons sourced via Facebook and untraceable communications via throwaway mobile phones and iPhone texting apps.
New Model Army traces the experiences of one member of Pantegral, a “new model” army made up of disparate groups who communicate via the web, only occasionally meeting up with other soldiers in the “real” world to physically fight.
Set in the UK, the story also echoes the rise of corporate mercenary teams like those that appear to be running the US war in Iraq; members of the new army are mostly ex-traditional army soldiers either AWOL or cashiered out for disciplinary reasons. They all have guerilla warfare training that they put to good use.
While the country’s government attempts to react to an enemy that won’t stay in one place, is better equipped – if soldiers are supplying themselves they buy the best they can afford – Pantegral marches on London at the behest of their client, Scotland.
Pantegral is run via consensus, every soldier has a vote on deciding which way the fight will go, right down to whether or not to take prisoners, what to do with them and details of negotiations with the opposition; all via the internet.
As the story continues the central character – who is never really identified – muses on the origin of the New Model Army, the vicissitudes of war and the eventual outcome of a world run via a community versus top-down or “feudal” government structures as it is now.
However what the soldiers don’t realise, but some traditional military boffins do, is that Pantegral – and similar organisations around the world – are becoming aware.
The complex net of communication, ideas, even emotions create an almost organic “mentality” that slowly becomes an identity. As the blurb on the book says: “His is called Pantegral. And he is you and me.”
Roberts’ format – writing purely from a first person perspective and with little to no indication of time – can be somewhat hard to get into at first. If you’re looking for a traditional shoot ‘em up, New Model Army is not for you.
If, however, you are either fascinated by the constant change of modern technology and concerned by how this will affect our societies, then New Model Army is a must read. It is uncannily prescient in so many ways.
After all, a full-blown war run by web-savvy youth may be only a small step from the current world of global online gaming.

New Model Army by Adam Roberts is published by Gollancz and is available from good book stores and online.


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