Bolo Strike by William H., Jr. Keith
Created by Keith Laumer
Hardcover - 338 pages (September 2001) 
Baen Books ISBN: 0671318357
Review by Ernest Lilley
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

I'm a fan of Keith Laumer's Bolo stories, tales of cybernetic courage by sentient tanks that embody what we'd like to think the best traits of warrior are, loyalty, commitment, the willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. Though Laumer himself is gone, his Bolo universe lives on through books like this one by Mil SF author William Keith, Jr.

Keith is a prolific writer, and I've enjoyed what I've read of him. I especially liked his near future Mil-SF Heritage series in which humans fight over possession of alien technology found on Mars, the moon, and Europa.

He's done a number of Bolo books too, Bolo Brigade, Bolo Rising, and probably others that I've lost track of. His latest, Bolo Strike, is true to the tradition, with lots of fast paced mega-joule output combat, a bunch of human soldiers tagging along where there should really only be bolos, and even a number of appropriate historical references to the original bolo stories. The only thing is, that for me...Bolos are best in short stories.

The novel form has too much space and though lovable, the main characters are...well...kind of limited. Bolos don't do a whole lot of personality development. Sure, the auxiliary characters do, but hey...they're auxiliary. 

In Bolo Strike, Mankind is at war with an ET race that thinks nothing of reengineering itself, or humans for that matter, to make a better slave or soldier.

The ET's refer to themselves as Gods, and have managed to get a whole lot of humans to swallow it. Among other things, they can promise especially faithful humans immortality, to become as they are. Of course, when you're immortal, you may not be in any big hurry to deliver on your promises. When the human Confederation decides to liberate the Aetryx held world Caern and free all the humans enslaved by the alien "Gods" they start with a massive space fleet in orbit and a clever ruse to draw the alien's own fleet away.

Not clever enough by half though and before you can say "positronic brains think faster than wetware" our fighting forces are reduced to a handful of Bolos on the surface and a handful of soldiers in a downed shuttle. All the aliens have is a planetful of defenses, most dug in underground and powered by direct geothermal taps to the planet's core.

If you've read Bolo books before, you're probably wondering if the fair thing to do wouldn't be to wait for the aliens to call up reinforcements, but in this case they already have them...Bolos of their own, salvaged from the planets defense system. True they're not as new as "Victor," the main character and baddest tank on the planet, but they've got human consciousnesses implanted in their cybernetic matrixes, linked together by telemetry that allows them to act as one, and the aliens seem to have a lot of them.

Fans of Laumer may recognize the echo of another of his books here, A Plague of Demons, where aliens are stealing soldiers specifically to cut them up and install them in war machines. Whether Keith realizes it or not, he's set two Laumer ideas against each other in a fight to the finish.

To add the human touch to the story, we have a human commander addicted to happy drugs, a human female tank commander in love with her tank, and a human consciousness struggling to understand why the promise of immortality seems to have resulted in repeated copies of himself getting blown to bits on the battlefield.

It's entertaining, reads fast, and is full of Bolo combat...but it's not the best of the Bolos books to hit the beach. Personally, I prefer either the originals or Baen's collections of Bolo short stories. 

 

2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu