July 18, 2023

Review: Rubicon

Rubicon Rubicon by J.S. Dewes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is military science fiction that owes a lot to the second iteration of Battlestar Galactica (2004). The TV show had humans facing off against synthetic Cylons; this book has its war between humans and the android hive-mind Mechans. Here, the warring humans are like the Cylons, uploading into new bodies--"husks"--through "rezone" technology. This conceit makes up a central theme and plot point of this book, which also tackles consciousness, what makes someone a sentient person, and whether it is moral or just to win a war "by any means necessary."

(Never mind that according to our current science, consciousness is generated by, and cannot be separated from, the physical brain. Sometimes this idea of "uploading" makes me a bit uneasy, as it's really a fancy science-fictional term for the existence of the soul. This raises a whole other host of issues about the soldiers being considered insignificant and disposable because if they are killed, they can just be stuck into new bodies and sent out again, no matter their trauma after dying and being resurrected multiple times. The uploaded person also has access to all their previous iteration's memories, and the uploaded consciousness can carve its previous pathways into the new brain. None of this is feasible, but if handled right, it provides exciting and thoughtful background for the story. It's handled pretty well in this book.)

Adriene Valero is a soldier who has died and "rezoned" 96 times fighting the Mechans. In this universe, humanity is not on Earth--they are confined to another system with a dying star, and they need to establish new colonies before the expanding sun swallows their home planets whole. But twenty years ago, they were discovered by the Mechans, and have been confined to their home system. Any attempts to scout or settle other inhabitable planets results in the wholesale slaughter of the humans. (It also raises the question of why the Mechans don't just invade the humans' home system of Mira and wipe them all out. The rather horrifying answer to this is revealed as the story progresses.) If an individual soldier does not commit suicide before they are captured by the Mechans, they are "hybridized," or forced into the Mechan hive mind and used as a stalking horse to kill other humans. Adriene was hybridized for two weeks until she died of thirst (the Mechans not knowing to feed or water their captive) and rezoned.

Needless to say, Adriene is afflicted by a great deal of trauma/PTSD because of all this, and her inner journey of recovery is just as important as the action of the main storyline. She is transferred to another company and given the titular "Rubicon," a virtual-intelligence brain implant that will help her to survive and fight the Mechans. But Adriene's Rubicon has...something extra. It is a full-blown artificial intelligence that develops in character and personality as the story goes on. Adriene's special Rubicon leads her to fall in with a Major West, who has an unorthodox and illegal (and definitely unethical, by any definition of the term) plan to defeat the Mechans forever.

There are quite a bit of plot twists and turns as the action ramps up, and the final twist of the ending is both sad and infuriating, and whets the appetite for the second book. Military science fiction isn't my favorite sub-genre, but this story is handled well and has good pacing and characterization. Certainly worth reading.

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