Keepers of the Peace
(Cosmos, $15.00, 179 pages, paperback; first published 1990; this
Set in 2083/4, this novel envisages a future in which a fair percentage
of humanity lives in Lagrangian-orbit space colonies which have not
long before successfully fought their
of independence to rid themselves of direct governance from Earth. Indeed,
now the boot is more on the other foot, since the colonies have a strong
political and military presence on the home planet, where they dominate
the waging of a not-quite-war between its dictatorship ally Grand Union
and neighbouring CalTex -- two of the states into which the former USA
Jed Brindle is an average lad from a small, largely agricultural space
colony. When called up for the draft he does not, like many of his peers,
opt for one of the seemingly relatively easy excuses to deny the call;
he is eager enough to leave the stifling confines of home and find adventure
in the military. Once there and fitted with implants to control mood,
communicate with his fellows and all the other things that cyber-implants
might be expected to do, he proves to be a frighteningly effective soldier
-- possessed not just of the requisite fighting skills but also of a
ruthlessness that scares his superiors. This book is his story.
Before we look at that story, a note on the book's structure. The main
narrative runs linearly through the odd-numbered chapters. The even-numbered
chapters consist of flashbacks that take the form of diary entries (some
by Jed), interview quasi-transcripts, etc. The result of this is a very
interesting one: at the same time that we are being pulled along by
the events of the "now" we are being given an ever more rounded, and
sometimes subtly shifting, depiction of Jed himself and of his times.
There's something of the same feel, because of this, as when reading
the John Dos Passos-influenced novels of John Brunner such as The
Sheep Look Up (1972) and Stand on Zanzibar (1968). Brooke
handles the dual strands of his narrative adroitly.
In the "now", Jed and a group of colleagues are conducting a plane
hijack in order to kidnap a prominent CalTex figure, Cohen. Things go
wrong, and the plane crashes in the middle of the desert with massive
loss of life. Jed sets out to lead a small party comprising his injured
military colleagues Amagat and Jacobi as well as the uninjured Cohen
across the hostile terrain to the nearest Grand Union outpost, which
is separated by a matter of just a few miles from the nearest CalTex
Along the way, as they survive the desert rigours and occasional aerial
attack, Jed goes through a rite of passage -- not the stereotyped transition
from adolescence to adulthood but something far more interesting than
that: the transition from killing machine to human being.
The cover quotes for Keepers of the Peace cite Heinlein and
Haldeman as obvious precursors: in novels like Starship Troopers
(1959) and The Forever War (1974) these two authors did indeed
tell the tale of futuristic war from the worm's-eye view of the common
soldier, showing how the brutalities of active military life can turn
a normal, sensitive human being into something quite other. Yes, but
... In Keepers of the Peace there's nothing of the triumphalism
of Starship Troopers or of the omnipresent large-scale-combat
blood and guts and Vietnam allegory of The Forever War; Brooke
keeps his focus far tighter, far more intimate than that, holding scenes
of actual fighting to a minimum and tending to depict them with the
same flat, sparse starkness that characterizes Jed's own thinking about
them. A better comparison, in terms of the feel of the novel, might
be with the opening chapter (based on a short story) of David Langford's
1982 novel The Space Eater. Jed's entirely cyborged father at
one point spells out this destruction of the personality in the grinding
machines of military exigency:
My son is dead. I guess he started to die back in March when
they sent his draft notice, but now it's all over. There's a new person
in that body of his.
When Jed was called up, Toni was worried about what they would
do to his body. I guess she doesn't want him ending up like me. But
she was focused on the wrong thing: it's what they do to your mind that
The military is like one big computing system. The generals
do the programming, and there's one awful lot of equipment to be coordinated.
The soldier is the place where hardware and software come together and
do their work.
In this view, the individual soldier cannot be a human being:
in order for everything to function properly, she or he, whether regarded
as stalwart hero or murderous war criminal, must be reduced to the status
of not even a silicon chip but of one of its electronic switches. It's
a grimly powerful metaphor, and one that is, even more grimly, hard
to challenge on its own terms.
As noted, there's no Vietnam allegory here. In this book's scenario
it's rather as if, instead, the triumphant Vietcong had rather rapidly
transformed themselves into the US Army. While preaching freedom and
democracy -- and while doubtless practising exactly those ideals outside
the confines of this story -- the colonies are in reality propping up
a seedy dictatorship against what appears on the scant evidence presented
to be a reasonably liberal democracy, the fundamental spur being, despite
the idealistic demagoguery, plain self-interest. Although we can hope
it will not, we can anticipate that what is in 2084 merely the making
of unpleasant friends will develop into a tyranny of economic dominance,
reinforced as necessary by military means, by the colonies over the
Earth. As the fear of this occurring -- with the USA in place of Brooke's
space colonies -- is much the topic of conversation in many political
fora today, this absorbing book could hardly have been reissued at a
more appropriate time.
Despite all the drama of its events and the sternness of its political
message, this is an oddly quiet book -- something that Brooke effects
through a studious restraint of writing style. Those who seek the measured
provocation of thought when considering our military future -- and indeed
our military present -- can be heartily recommended to read Keepers
of the Peace.
Those who seek out militaristic sf for the thrills, the gore, the glory
and the melodrama should be prescribed this novel as a cure.
Review by John Grant.
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