Here’s a sample of the books I’m taking a look at so that I’ll hopefully be able to contribute to the Archon panel on space cops.
Thalia Ng felt her weight increasing as the elevator sped down the spoke from the habitat’s docking hub. She allowed herself to drift to the floor, trying to judge the point at which the apparent force reached one standard gee. Thalia hoped this was not one of those habitats that insisted on puritanically high gravity, as if it was somehow morally improving to stagger around under two gees. Her belt, with her whiphound and polling-core-analysis tools, already weighed heavily on her hips.
I gather from chapter one of this book that a whiphound is a terrifying weapon prefects use when imposing draconian sentences on habitats without any warning.
The prefects are presented as the good guys. This is not, as far as I can tell, being presented as a dystopia. After reading the first couple of chapters, my reaction is: Sorry, but saying, “We’re totally defending democracy via draconian penalties inflicted on large numbers of innocent people without any warning” does not make your actions seem right to me.
The whiphounds do, however, fall into the category of “cool equipment.” They seem to be weapons with enough of an AI component to act more or less independently. If someone attacks a prefect, they cut pieces off that person to neutralize the threat.
Personally, I don’t find this at all realistic. It seems to me that someone could grab a relatively low-tech gun and shoot a prefect before a whiphound could be deployed. The weapon apparently has to be told what to do before becoming active, and while it may be able to strike across twelve feet or so, you know what can strike across a much greater distance than that? A gun.
There’s a long prologue, which I’m skipping for now. Just looking at the level of tech, I’m seeing containment suits and pulse rifles — very ordinary sorts of things. Then the first chapter opens this way:
“That’s an officer’s tail, ain’t it?”
Lieutenant Michael Brogue, dressed in camouflage fatigues the color of a Terran desert, stood in the center of a wide cavern, surrounded by old-style arc lamps, fifty or more unmarked crates, a dozen terrified hostages, six desperate Freedomists, and an antique holdheld chemically propelled projectile weapon pointed directly at the bridge of his nose.
The man addressing him appeared to be about twenty-five years old, a native Martian. He was dressed in a sleeveless blue tunic and loose-fitting bright red trousers, the cuffs of which had been sloppily shoved into a pair of heavy workman’s boots — probably in an attempt to appear “military.” He was currently being called a “terrorist” by the Martian media and a “freedom fighter” by his small circle of compatriots.
An officer’s tail?
Do you generally think about the guy’s outfit in detail when he’s pointing a gun at your face? Well, fine, moving on.
Oh, this one opens with a different kind of prologue — a timeline from 2003 to 2121. I actually like that a lot better than most ordinary prologues. The story itself opens in 2143.
As midnight approached, the wild neon colors of the borealis storm came shimmering through the soft snow falling gently across Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. It was as if nature were partying along with the rest of the city, providing a jade-and-carmine light show far more elegant than any of the fireworks that had been bursting sporadically above the rooftops since Friday.
Detective Third Grade Sidney Hurst watched batches of light-night revelers staggering along the frozen pavement, calling out greetings or challenges depending on how toxed up they were. Ice, snow, and slush played havoc with the smartdust embedded in the tarmac, blacking out whole sections of the metamesh that governed the city’s roads and therefore making driving with the vehicles smartauto a dangerous gamble.
A far more appealing opening than the one above, and not only that, but tons of equipment. Not cop-specific equipment, but a lot more interesting than pulse rifles. Let me see. Looks like the there’s “bodymesh” with “smartcells” that appear to be like a cooler, more advanced version of a smartphone. Connection and identification and who knows what else. I’m moving this up the list to actually read it before Archon.
On the day of the big rescue, Wil Brierson took a walk on the beach. Surely this was one afternoon when it would be totally empty. The sky was clear, but the usual sea mist kept visibility to a few kilometers. The beach, the low dunes, the sea — all were closed in by faint haze that seemed centered on his viewpoint. Wil moped along just beyond the waves, where the water soaked the sand flat and cool. His ninety-kilo tread left perfect barefoot images trailing behind. Wil ignored the sea birds that skirled about. …
It goes on like that. I’m not too interested. “Moped” is not a word that draws me toward this protagonist. I don’t mind establishing the setting, but the first glimpses of this guy’s attitude turn me off. I’m bored by him and his mopey attitude and the way he ignores the birds. Having said that, I respect Vernor Vinge a lot as a writer and would go on with this purely on that basis.
Skimming ahead, I see that a remote-controlled flier turns up a few pages on. That’s the first sign of SF-esque technology. Oh, and here’s an alien. Vinge’s Tines were one of my favorite-ever alien species.
Lije Baley had just reached his desk when he became aware of R Sammy watching him expectantly.
The dour lines of his long face hardened. “What do you want?”
“The boss wants you, Lije. Right away. Soon as you come in.”
R Sammy stood there blankly.
Baley said, “I said, all right. Go away!”
R Sammy turned on his heel and left to go about his duties. Baley wondered irritably why those same duties couldn’t be done by a man.
R Sammy is a robot, of course. I have never much liked Asimov’s books. I’ll take a look at this, but I don’t offhand expect to really like this one either. That may not be fair. Apparently the protagonist gets to know the robot and his opinion changes and so this is really sociological SF, which often appeals to me.
“I have decided to consider it all just a terrible mistake,” I told my integrator. “and the best thing to do is to simply ignore it and get on with my life.”
The integrator looked at me with large and lambent eyes. It had been eating its way through yet another bowl of expensive fruit and did not pause in its chewing as it said, “That may be difficult to do.”
Its voice came, as always, from some indefinite point in the air. It occurred to me, and not for the first time, to wonder how it contrived to still speak in that manner. A few days before I could have drawn a schematic to show exactly how its collection of interconnected components worked. I had, after all, assembled and disposed them in various locations about my workroom, so that I would have a research and communications assistant equipped with all the appropriate skills and systems that a freelance discriminator required….
I like this a lot better than the previous one. They both open with dialogue, but this one is a lot more lively and interesting and fun. A LOT more.
I’m moving this one and Great North Road to the top of the pile for actually reading the sample. Then Vinge. Then we’ll see. But Phobos is at the bottom of the pile at the moment.