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June 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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T2 The Future War by S.M. Sterling
Harper Entertainment HCVR: ISBN 0380977931 PubDate: 06/17/03
Review by Edward Carmien

368 pgs. List price $23.95
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I reviewed this text at a disadvantage, as I’m not familiar with the first two Terminator novels. Clearly, there was some interesting ground covered in those earlier books (cybernetic seals?). This one starts with a young adult John Connor, his mother Sarah, and “ex-counter-terrorism agent Dieter von Rossbach” hiding out in Alaska. At some prior time they’ve dealt with the Skynet threat—or have they?

Recently built vehicles begin behaving strangely. A radical Luddite movement which adroitly uses technology is brewing. And the U.S. government reveals that it has turned over control of all nuclear weapons to a foolproof computer system.

Oops. Pack the long underwear, Ma. Nuclear winter is y’cumin in.

In T2: The Future War it is the Resistance vs. Skynet and Skynet’s human allies, the remnants of a decapitated military and radical Luddites who believe the earth will be a greener place with fewer people. John Connor finally grows into his predestined role of Great Military Leader (he uses a different term), Sarah Connor continues to kick robotic arse, and humanity manages to wend its way to the future history determined by the films—Kyle Reese is sent back through time to help save young Sarah, while a T-100 is programmed to fight the T-1000. If the time travel aspect of how this works makes your head hurt, you’re not alone. John Connor complains of similar headaches all through the book.

I found myself enjoying the earlier part of the novel the most. Upon reflection, I guessed this to be true because early in the novel there are still many ways for the future history to unfold. Toward the end of the novel, the bottleneck of what is necessary constrained Stirling so much the narrative acquired a definite feeling of inevitability. In addition, during the final third of the novel, Stirling uses several “and then X years pass” statements.

Great fiction? No. Readable? Yes. Fans of the movie will appreciate the effort Stirling put into making his novel mesh with what is known about the universe as represented in the films. I don’t know whether the Luddites and other human allies will be part of the upcoming film. Their inclusion here makes for a much more readable novel—in a film, the bad guy can be an emotionless artificial intelligence far distant from the scene of all the action. In a novel, a form inherently more “wordy,” having bad guys who are human is a definite plus.

Stirling fans will note his usual fingerprints—well muscled military types in hero roles, for example—but might come away disappointed. Stirling’s original fiction is, of course, much more enjoyable to read. Again, fans of the Terminator films will enjoy the detail. Anyone with a keen eye will appreciate some of the less obvious humor—Dieter, Sarah’s significant other, is for all intents and purposes Arnold Himself (he’s well-muscled, he’s from Austria), and there’s a character, the daughter of communist radicals, named “Ninel.” You figure it out. John Connor did.

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