I am a huge fan of Daniel Suarez’s first books, Daemon and Freedom™, so I was pretty stoked when I had the opportunity to meet Suarez at ARE this past May. That being said, I was simultaneously excited and nervous to read Kill Decision—what if it didn’t stack up to its predecessors? I’m pleased to say that it more than exceeded my high expectations.
In case you don’t have time to read this whole post, I’m going to go ahead and give you the bottom line up front: If you love technology and science, or are fascinated by the more interesting potential branchings in the evolution of human society, this book is a must-read.
Now let me tell you why.
Suarez describes systems, people and settings with the clear eye of an engineer combined with the powerful narrative tension of a skilled storyteller. He also might challenge everything you thought you knew about global politics and technology. His deeply engrossing books are different from anything else out there, because the topics he presents in fictional settings are drawn from real scientific research and current (or imminent) technologies, lending each scenario a chilling plausibility. The technical research and attention to detail are superb. And fortunately for his readers, Suarez’s technical prowess is complemented by a wry, witty, and utterly addictive writing style.
Pilotless drones and autonomous quadrocopters are here today, but what would make them truly deadly? One of Kill Decision’s protagonists is myrmecologist Linda McKinney, a world-class expert on ants and ACOs, ant colony optimization models. She explains, “An ant is a simple computational agent that iteratively constructs a solution for the problem at hand.” The following three pages are an incredibly fascinating lesson in swarming intelligence, stigmergy, and the lifespan and potential for encoding of pheromone matrices. Explorations like these are the real meat of the book, where Suarez plays with ideas to push our conceptions of what’s possible, all the while grounding his conjectures deeply in current scientific understanding.
Now that we have been introduced to this model of ant colony behavior, the story carries us to a world where it has been algorithmically programmed into a “colony” of autonomous drones, and explores the implications for international relations and power dynamics in an action-packed plot full of scientific experts, shady corporations, and special ops agents.
In between the intensity of the action sprints, the details of the book always made me smile. At one point we meet a swarming intelligence specialist who has created a drone shark swarm that roams through Subtropolis – a real underground business park in Missouri situated deep under a shelf of limestone rock. Small drone quadrocopters have been outfitted with fins, and they “swim” through the darkness, nosing into objects and sending off an alarm when they encounter anything suspicious. It’s a fantastic touch, geeky and playful at the same time, and sounds like something the original Mac team would’ve created, given access to the right tech. It also feels very whimsical and contributes to Suarez’s specialty: a fictional setting that’s crazy and out there and cool, yet just realistic enough to make you wonder.
Because real places, socioeconomic realities, and the newest, craziest technologies figure prominently in the book, Google was a constant reading companion – and a welcome entry point for discovering new ideas and food for thought. For instance, Gorgon Stare video capture technology for drones is a real project being pursued by DARPA, but it’s portrayed several iterations down the line – and it’s gotten a lot scarier.
But it’s not only about the tech. Suarez’s most compelling characters exemplify the modern psychological profile of a hero – and there’s nothing sexier than a tightly knit team of James Bond types using unimaginably cool equipment to competently fight insanely dangerous foes. This is the ultimate game, pitting good against evil in incisive technological warfare, and Kill Decision doesn’t disappoint.
The book comes out July 19; you can pre-order it here. It’s perfect summer reading, and I can’t recommend it enough.