Peter Watts. Malak. (Engineering Infinity)

At the time of writing this story review, ‘Engineering Infinity’ has just been published. The review doesn’t really have major spoilers in it, you might want to skip the review and buy the book from : amazon.com | amazon.co.uk

Watts doesn’t look to far into the future in a story seen through the eyes of a semi-autonomous military killing machine. The story opens with a couple of quotes from real publications, to create the setting of the story : risk and ethics in military robotics, and collateral damage (aka killing civilians).

The aerial robot the story follows is named Azrael, as in the Archangel of Death. Previously purely a machine following logic and detailed instructions about engaging the enemy, we hear his wranglers commenting on his new instruction set : he is now an experimental ‘killer with a conscience’.

“It is antique technology, decades deep in the catalogue : a palsied fist, raised trembling against the bleeding edge”.

We follow Azrael as he comes to term with his new instructions, effectively giving him a new mind-set, and how he reacts over his next engagements, and the implications for him, and those he fights for. Thought-provoking, and difficult to read without the overlay of the wikileaked video of collateral damage in Iraq in your mind.

There’s not too much military hardware porn, and some nice writing – in coming up against some much older hardware : “It is antique technology, decades deep in the catalogue : a palsied fist, raised trembling against the bleeding edge”. The robot’s reactions to sound is particularly effective, a nice counterpoint to his coding which uses estimates of the height of human objects on his radar to evaluate whether they are adults or not.

full review of Engineering Infinity on Best SF.

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