If you’re anything like me, you’ve been thinking about how wars start lately, and not just out of academic curiosity. One book on my to-read list is In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, about pre-Holocaust Germany, the undercurrents, the whispers, the blind eyes turned.
Another book you could read is Ada Palmer’s second Terra Ignota book, The Seven Surrenders.
One (the?) question of this novel is why we start wars and what are we willing to pay for peace? A life here, a life there? Which is the greater evil, global war enhanced by supremely advanced technology and high speed world travel, or a few accidental car accidents? (The central problem is the ever fascinating utilitarian conundrum, personalized.)
Surrenders centers around the unravelling of the OS system, whose secret we discover at the end of book one. The OS system is a bash family that runs the intentional car crashes that smooth out wrinkles before they can snarl the world into all out war. I had a brief exchange on Twitter with an editor at Orbit about the future of warfare and the distancing factor of drone warfare. Of the many traumatic aspects of war, I think that’s one of them–affecting civilians and fighters alike. I think that’s at play in Seven Surrenders with Sniper, who (and I’ll need to read the book again, I think) feels brittle, frayed. Their family has been killing at a distance (and Sniper, maybe at less of a distance, given the name) for years–they even killed their bash parents to do so. It’s especially hard on Cato, the scientist in the family whose ideas contribute to the killings; in Too Like the Lightning, we learn that his suicide attempts coincide with OS murders. In Seven Surrenders, the family finally falls apart under the strain of their deeds coming to light.
In the upcoming The Will to Battle, I’m most curious about how Palmer envisions warfare. How would we fight, with access to Utopian weapons? What role would the gods have in our struggle? (One of them, we know, has suited up to join the battle.) There is a media presence, too, and one of the firestarters is the celebrity human doll, Sniper, whose devastating climactic act brings down the tentative web of leaders who helped keep war at bay. (I like the idea that it’s hard to go to war with other nations/strats when their leaders are your lovers….)
Will it reflect our real-world use of media warfare? How will it affect the civilian population? Some disturbing civilian creations came out after Mycroft Canner’s atrocities–Cannerbeat, for one, still makes me shudder–so how would they react to another celebrity, to global atrocities? Who will be the soldiers, in a world where people have specialized? We have a high population of lower income soldiers in this world, in the US. (In this series, my money is on Humanists for soldiers, Utopians for innovators even though they can’t fight, I know, and Masons for generals. But I could be convinced.) Another unique thing is the Utopian suits, and how all of Apollo Mojave’s reflect what that person’s role will be in war–clergy, infantry, medic, etc. I found myself wanting to put on a helmet just to see.
Also, if everyone has a basic living, as is assumed in the Terra Ignota world, what incentives will there be to fight?
The story sets up a few ideologies to fight for:
- It’s not right to kill innocents, no matter the greater good. You could be next.
- Your leaders have been manipulating you.
- If we fight now, research shows it will be less catastrophic than if we wait.
Another thing I’m curious about–I wrote an academic paper on the reliance of nation-building (very strict us-them mentality) in fantasy as part of the war engine of the genre, and we learn in Lightning that nations have been dissolved (because of increased globalization but perhaps also because of this, or it’s a side-effect and people assume it leads to peace). I wonder how Palmer will leverage this in the world to come–who will be fighting whom? With so many blended allegiances and strats, what side will people choose?
I’d like to read this again, think a bit harder on things. I like the Terra Ignota series because it encourages that. It’s close enough to our world, and so philosophically dense, that it’s genuinely interesting to make connections and extrapolate.
Questions, comments, arguments–hit me with them.