Dogs of War
Publisher: Head of Zeus Ltd.
Publishing year: 2017
Genre: Science fiction
Rex wants to be a Good Dog. He’s a genetically engineered dog-like creature called a Bioform. He’s obedient, loyal to a fault, and more than capable to follow orders and fight in a war. And that’s what Rex does: follow his Master’s orders and kill enemies. His feedback chip tells him he’s a Good Dog for doing just that. However, Rex discovers that life is not so black and white, and that being a Good Dog is far more complicated.
Initially, Dogs of War starts out with Rex and his pack of other Bioforms just following orders during a war in Campeche, Mexico. Rex’s squadmates are all interesting in their own right. There is Dragon, a genetically engineered lizard who is used against special targets, but is a bit on the lazy side. There’s Honey, a genetically engineered bear who sports a giant cannon and is also very clever. Finally, there is Bees, a hive-mind of bees, which is a fascinating concept of itself. Life is initially simple for Rex; he follows orders, and commands his squad to fulfill those orders to the best of their ability. Then the plot kicks in and Rex finds himself having to make decisions on his own. But how do you decide what’s the best course of action? How can you be a Good Dog when no one tells you what to do? Can you be a Good Dog when your Master is bad?
Rex is a very endearing main character. Despite the fact that he’s deadly and that he has killed a lot of people, there is a certain innocence in his world view. When he slips his Master’s control, you see him not only agonize over what he should do and how to decide on whether someone is an enemy or not, but you can also understand his yearning for the clear-cut purpose he had when still on a leash. He becomes increasingly conflicted between his loyalty and doing the Right Thing, whatever that might be. Rex’s conflict is given weight because he’s so endearing, which allows this novel to pack quite the emotional punch.
As rewarding as Rex’s growth is, Dogs of War offers much more than that. Where it could have ended after the initial situation in Campeche was resolved, it doesn’t. The novel deals with the rights of non-humans and their place in the world, their rights to ‘live’ as sentient beings even if they aren’t human. There is also the issue of artificial intelligence and the manifacture of it. The novel also deals with ethics and morality; of bearing the responsibility for your decisions or hiding behind justification and conditioning. Tchaikovsky also manages to provide some interesting social commentary about public opinion and warfare. He not only does this through Rex’s POV, but also by including the POV of several other characters. Some people might not find the human POV’s interesting, but I felt it contributed to the world building and the gravity of the issues that were tackled.
The prose itself was also very well written. Most characters had very distinctive voices; especially in the cases of Rex – whose canine qualities really shine through in the used language, which makes him even more endearing – and Bees, whose hive mind was incredibly interesting to read. The only downside? I felt that the character of Asanto and her purpose in the story felt a little forced, even though the concept she represents is interesting. This is only a minor issue, however.
If you’re looking for a well-written science fiction with an endearing protagonist that deals with some complex issues, you should give Dogs of War a try, especially if you like animals and/or good action sequences. I’m definitely interested in reading more of Tchaikosky’s work.