Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky

October 26, 2017

Rex is a Good Dog. He loves humans. He hates enemies. He’s utterly obedient to Master.

He’s also seven foot tall at the shoulder, bulletproof, bristling with heavy calibre weaponry and his voice resonates with subsonics especially designed to instil fear. With Dragon, Honey and Bees, he’s part of a Multi-form Assault Pack operating in the lawless anarchy of Campeche, Southeastern Mexico.

Rex is a genetically engineered bioform, a deadly weapon in a dirty war. He has the intelligence to carry out his orders and feedback implants to reward him when he does. All he wants to be is a Good Dog. And to do that he must do exactly what Master says and Master says he’s got to kill a lot of enemies. But who, exactly, are the enemies? What happens when Master is tried as a war criminal? What rights does the Geneva Convention grant weapons? Do Rex and his fellow bioforms even have a right to exist? And what happens when Rex slips his leash?

2017 seems to have been quite the year when it comes to animal protagonists in genre fiction. Dogs of War is the third book in the last two months I’ve read that features a dog as a main character*. Not that I’m complaining mind you, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s latest is a cracking read with some genuinely memorable characters. Future war, contemplative non-human combatants and a conspiracy to boot. Works for me, I’m in.

Rex is the very definition of the word loyal. He is designed to be that way. When his Master commands, Rex will act. Rex isn’t just a dog, he is a weapon. He has been bred for battle and, along with the rest of his squad, is used to quell insurrection wherever it occurs. I think the thing I liked most about Rex is his innocence. He knows little of the outside world and he views every situation in the simplest of terms. The Pavlovian responses in his character are because he just doesn’t know any better. His Master points him in a certain direction and expects Rex to comply. For poor old Rex, ignorance is indeed bliss. As he learns more about his place in the world, he realises that most things aren’t as black and white as he had previously assumed. He must start thinking for himself and make decisions rather than just blindly following orders. Character wise it was easy to view Rex as almost a blank canvas. It is fascinating to watch him evolve in the most fundamental respects as the narrative unfolds. He views himself as a leader, but it is not until his story is nearly over that he truly understands what true leadership entails.

Our hero is not alone, however. The rest of the assault team are also great characters. If Rex is the heart of the group, then Honey is the brains. Far wiser than she appears, she acts as Rex’s de-facto guide. Rex lives in the moment, acting and reacting to extra-stimuli, not really planning too far ahead. Honey is the opposite, she’s a thinker. I got the distinct impression all of Honey’s actions were precisely considered to the smallest detail. She sees the bigger picture and acts upon it.  Dragon is the most primal member of the group. Much like Rex, he is only concerned with following orders. If he is not directly required to act, he won’t. The most enigmatic member of the Multi-form Assault Pack is Bees. I’ll be honest, I’m not even going to attempt to explain this character. Bees is Bees, that’s the best I can do. You’re just going to have to trust me that Bees is important. Read the book, you’ll soon understand.

Adrian Tchaikovsky explores some interesting territory with Dogs of War. Technology continues to develop at an exponential rate. When will we finally ask the question should we be doing something just because we can? In the novel, humanity has difficulty understanding what they have created with the bio-forms. Are Rex and the others just weapons, are they monsters, entities in their own right or something else altogether? Once these questions start to get raised, the plot moves away from the battlefield towards the courtroom. Those for and against the bio-tech appreciate that there are bigger questions that need to be answered. What are the moral implications over engineering thinking weapons that feel and have the capacity learn to beyond their limits?

Where the novel really succeeds is highlighting the juxtaposition between soldiers at war, and soldiers in peacetime. The fact that the soldiers are non-human only adds extra depth to the narrative by raising a whole host of additional questions. When it comes to science fiction, my primitive brain always craves action and pretty explosions. My higher self is looking for a plot that forces me to engage my brain and think. With Dogs of War, Adrian Tchaikovsky has managed the near impossible and delivered both masterfully.

Music recommendation time! Whilst devouring Dogs of War I listened the soundtrack for Watch_Dogs by Brian Retizell. The music has a modern electronica feel that I felt captures the tone of the book. Near future science fiction requires and near future soundtrack. The fact the album has the word Dogs in the title is just an added bonus.

Dogs of War is published by Head of Zeus and is available from 2nd November. Highly recommended.

*A question for all the publishers out there, when will cats be given the same recognition? Much as I like dogs, I’m really a cat person**

**To clarify, I’m not a person who is part cat. I mean I prefer cats. You probably don’t care. Nevermind, ignore me, I’m rambling.

One Comment

  • russell1200 October 26, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    I haven’t finished it yet, but Paolo Bacigalupi’s Tool seems to be going into the same territory. Though Tool seems to have a little more of a Dr. Frankenstein theme going.

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