One of the first “grown-up” books I read was Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. He wrote it in 1969, while he was a medical student at Harvard Medical School. I remember not just loving the book, but admiring his attention to detail. My Dad worked at Millipore at the time, and I was surprised when I saw Millipore referenced in the book. It was obvious Crichton knew what he was talking about; though Andromeda Strain was a fantastic work of fiction, it was rooted in reality in a way that few books are.
I had a similar reaction to early Tom Clancy, and later Scott Turow. There’s something about an author who can both write a great story and who’s intimately familiar with the intricacies of the space they’re writing about. And it’s exactly why I adored Daemon the first time I read it; here was a book that came from someone who knew technology. More importantly, it was clear that the author had given serious thought to the implications of technological developments. At its core, it was a book that wanted you to think about where these things were headed, and what that might mean for society.
That author is Daniel Suarez, and it’s been a privilege to get to know Dan over the last several years. (More on that here.) I’m hardly an objective observer at this point: I consider Dan and his wife Michelle to be good friends, and those who’ve known me for a while are likely tired of my enthusiastic recommendations of Dan’s books.
Couldn’t be more excited for Dan that his newest book comes out tomorrow. It’s Kill Decision, and if like me you love a good story that’s rooted in an intimate understanding of its subject matter, you will adore it. Many others have written great summaries of the plot, so I’ll let you read those rather than try to retell it.
I read Kill Decision a few months ago, and what’s stayed with me ever since was a deep unease at how present the book is. Where Daemon and Freedom™ were both far-fetched enough in plot that you could safely admire the technical accuracy while discounting the likelihood of seeing something like it play out in real life, I’ve had no such ability to do so since reading Kill Decision.
Great authors give you a good story while leaving you with something to chew on. That’s what made Kill Decision such a joy for me: Dan’s written about something deeply unsettling: as the tools of war become less expensive and more anonymous, the very nature of warfare has changed (and continues to change). And as technology drives cheaper, smarter, and smaller devices, the potential to deploy those devices as instruments of war – particularly when they’re autonomous and anonymous – is intellectually intriguing and simultaneously terrifying.
Here are a few of the articles over the last several months that make the technology discussed in Kill Decision very, very present:
- A future for drones: Automated killing, Washington Post, September 19, 2011
- New drone has no pilot anywhere, so who’s accountable?, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2012
- Why Autonomous Drone Tech is Advancing so Quickly, John Robb, March 5, 2012
- If You Have a Smart Phone, Anyone Can Now Track Your Every Move, MIT Technology Review, April 20, 2012
- Drone Use Takes Off on the Home Front, Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2012
- Iran Says It’s Copying US Drone, Herald Tribune, April 22, 2012
- U.S. military embraces robots with greater autonomy, Reuters, May 9, 2012
With this, it won’t surprise anyone that I highly recommend Kill Decision if you’re looking for a thrilling, thoughtful read. Pretty sure that Dan will be a household name in a month or so as Kill Decision cracks the summer bestseller lists. It’s that good, and most importantly I’m eager to see the conversation that develops as more people get exposed to the issues Dan raises.