It began in 1976 when Keith Laumer published a series of short stories culminating into a novel-length release called Bolo. His concept revolved around massive, self-aware tanks that fight for humanity. Strange protagonists to say the least. But the idea proved popular enough to publish several books throughout the 80’s and early 90’s. Tragically, this was as far as Laumer got with the idea before passing away on January 23rd, 1993.
But the Bolo series was not finished. Rather the torch was passed onto other authors, including David Weber, Bill Fawcett, and J. Steven York. Better yet, these authors seemed to write their novels without any need to dive into earlier installments. And that includes Bolo Rising by today’s reviewed author, William H. Keith Jr.
Set on the colony of Cloud, the human residence are slaves to the !*!*!; not a censored expletive, but rather a shorthand for the Clackers— robotic alien invaders. Each day the slaves toil to find every reusable scrap of material in the dirt and mud. At night they avoid the attentions of the overseers, humans who betrayed their race for slightly better living conditions. Attempts at rebellion are squashed by the Clacker flyers, who only appear to assist their human taskmasters.
And when the slaves lose hope, many take the “Hector Option”— walking into the guns of the Bolo guard tank.
But Major Jaime Graham isn’t finished with the fight. Convinced he can undo the programming against Hector’s system, Graham plots to return the Bolo to humanity’s side. Enlisting the aid of specialists hidden among the ranks of the slaves, Graham eventually succeeds at freeing Hector.
Unfortunately for him, breaking out isn’t even half the fight.
Aside from the prison guards and security flyers, the Clackers firmly control the airspace and orbit in abundance. The world is theirs, and not even a 32,000-ton planetary-weapon like Hector can kill them all. Thus, much of Bolo Rising turns from an implausible liberation of the planet to an escape from it. Securing allies, gathering means of paying for transit and holding off foes both without and within.
While it may sound like Bolo Rising risks being more military action than science fiction, that’s not the case. Keith not only does a fantastic job of explaining the theoretical, but does so in the context of the story. Through his characters’ dialogue or the prose, Keith discusses holonomic brain theory, parallel processing challenges and cybernetic integration issues. Perhaps it’s because of this that Hector’s scenes, narrated from the first-person perspective, are so fascinating.
Bolo Rising is a awesome read. It thrills with themes of freedom to satisfy the spirit, characters with heart and food for the mind. More than just another entry in a military sci-fi franchise, it’s what science fiction ought to be.