20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine piece of philosophical fiction
The majority of modern or near future war fiction is set far away, in Afghanistan or China or Russia, and it's somewhat refreshing to find an author who is willing to bring home the fight to, of all places, the M4 corridor, that bastion of the middle class. There's something compelling and vaguely disturbing about imagining a firefight in the centre of Maidenhead. As...
Published on 26 May 2010 by Flyingscotsman
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars First section, brilliant. But then...
A short and punchy piece of speculative fiction which imagines the British Isles of 2030, divided into warring factions and dominated by new model armies fighting an increasingly ineffective and outdated British Army. Roberts closely examines the concept of ultimate democracy, and speculates as to whether it is a driving force that develops smart, strong social groups,...
Published on 29 Dec. 2010 by C. Askew
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine piece of philosophical fiction,
The majority of modern or near future war fiction is set far away, in Afghanistan or China or Russia, and it's somewhat refreshing to find an author who is willing to bring home the fight to, of all places, the M4 corridor, that bastion of the middle class. There's something compelling and vaguely disturbing about imagining a firefight in the centre of Maidenhead. As actually pointed to within the book, there are strong hints of War of the Worlds hidden within this little gem, a hopelessly outmoded regular army repeatedly forced back by a more technologically advanced foe, leaving familiar and deserted territory behind them.
The New Model Army, the quasi-sentient protagonist of the piece, is the ultimate expression of what the Americans like to call Network Centric Warfare. They are a geographically dispersed force of mercenaries, all sharing information, all aware of each other and their surroundings, and all armed to the teeth. A way to think of them would be perhaps to imagine a fusion of the mercenaries of the 1960s with the community from EVE online. They are an army of armchair experts, pooling the collective knowledge of the crowd and applying it to the pursuit of warfare in a totally democratic manner, by a majority vote. By conducting their warfare in this way, and only striking where they know they are strong, they are able to repeatedly inflict tremendous losses on the defending British Army, still relying on the chain of command, and on rigid military doctrine.
It's a not unrealistic development of the direction that most modern armies are beginning to take, and it serves to present the narrator of the piece, a soldier within the army, with a way of exploring the nature or war, love and the human relationship with democracy. As a philosophical piece it is thought provoking and compelling, assisted by an excellent writing style and a fine sense of humour (the protagonist's thoughts on the armament of the British Police Service are particularly noteworthy). From the opening pages I'll admit I was preparing for a slightly heavy handed expounding of the merits of radicalized anarchic democracy, however as the book progresses the other side of the coin begins to emerge, and the author manages to pull off that rare feat: presenting both sides well and leaving the reader to ponder upon which is in the right, if either are.
While the philosophy and writing style of the book are superb, I did find it a little hard to suspend my disbelief at certain parts of the war story itself. One though that came to mind was that if the combatants of the New Model Army require a constant internet connection to make their battle strategies and obtain intel, surely a jamming aircraft, or indeed a nearby microwave, could present a serious impairment of their fighting capabilities (perhaps the feudals are too daft to think of that). And of course, the soldiers of the NME had better hope that the Blue Screen of Death has been vanquished in 2020.
That said, despite my engineer's pedantry, I rather enjoyed this book. There are parts where it becomes a little too surreal, and where suspension of disbelief is hard to maintain, but overall it is a very clever, plausible and well written piece of science fiction.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars First section, brilliant. But then...,
A short and punchy piece of speculative fiction which imagines the British Isles of 2030, divided into warring factions and dominated by new model armies fighting an increasingly ineffective and outdated British Army. Roberts closely examines the concept of ultimate democracy, and speculates as to whether it is a driving force that develops smart, strong social groups, or a destructive ideal that bypasses any sense of collective morality. The book also looks at everyday modern technologies like Google maps and wikis, and speculates as to how they could be adapted and used not only to build micro-societies that function successfully as ultimate democracies, but also how they could be used tactically within the context of modern warfare. A third major theme is that of love and trust -- Roberts examines the relationships that form between soldiers engaged in combat together, constantly attempting to define the connection that is formed by individuals within the context of war. All in all it is a surprisingly complex novel, and an enjoyable read. Unfortunately, Roberts has rather failed to balance the necessary confines of the book's genre with its literary aspirations -- the short final section, which attempts a homage to Hobbes' 'Leviathan', feels pretentious and confusing and does not draw the novel to any kind of satisfying conclusion. Far better is the confident first section, in which Roberts sets the scene, vividly and imaginatively depicts scenes of combat and introduces his carefully-drawn narrator, Tony Block. Although Roberts' predictions for a possible near-future are fascinating and well thought out, he fails to effectively resolve any of them -- in fact, the novel seems to spiral out of control and eventually just 'stops', rather than having any kind of real ending. An engaging read filled with a lot of interesting ideas, but due to its frustrating elements, not a book I'd pick up again
5.0 out of 5 stars Pantegral is a New Model Army,
This review is from: New Model Army (Paperback)
What if a truly democratic army existed? If, instead of hierarchical arrangements, what's known as the chain of command was dissolved into a highly technological method of deciding what comes next on the battlefield? Hard to imagine, isn't it? In this book it becomes a reality. Put aside the notions you might have of chaos brought down upon men fighting in the field, and the command system that has sent men to certain death in two world wars. In this book warfare is conducted quite differently. Men are their own medics, armed with the knowledge of how to treat wounds etc. They are responsible for their own logistics, their own weaponry, they can choose when to attack, bearing on what is actually happening on the field of battle and not on some notions of a General far from the action. They have the technological communications systems to make decisions truly democratic.
This is a truly wonderful book. But it carries within its pages several contradictory notions. What are men doing when they are fighting? Is it really somehow related, if not conditional upon, the notion of play? This is just one of the ideas broached and personified in this book. It seems to presage Game Theory, though not by that name. It explores different methods of conducting warfare, and it is excruciatingly marvellous.
Some time in the not so distant future, Britain is plagued by warring sides. On one side is the conventional army, hierarchical, and hidebound with notions of "orders" and obeying them, and on the other side is the New Model Army. Now who would win in such a battle? Men who are fighting the reality, those tied down to a kind of slavery, who must obey orders with no input into the methods they can use or the battle sequences they can invent? Or those with the flexibility and communications to make truly democratic decisions about where they go, whom they attack, and what methods they use etc. Men, moreover, who are not slaves to hierarchy, and who have the means to diversify.
This book explores the principles of warfare and comes up with a radical answer. And it is spreading like wildfire over the battlegrounds of Europe. It is breathtaking in its audacity and it is a beautiful, angry, savagely satirical, mind-blowing book.
4.0 out of 5 stars War is play...,
This review is from: New Model Army (Hardcover)
This is an intriguing and compelling book. Its premise is that, twenty or thirty years into the future, "New Model Armies" have sprung up - loose assemblages of individuals, sourcing their own weapons, coordinating themselves by Wi-Fi, with no leaders, voting minute by on tactics and - bluntly - living to fight. One such army, Pantegral, is contracted to fight for Scottish Independence and promptly lays waste to much of Southern England.
Roberts has a lot of fun with this concept - both in describing the wreckage of the M4 corridor (a s we witness the Battles of Basingstoke and Reading, Betjeman's prayer "Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough..." seems about to be answered) and in teasing out the implications of the military innovation: NMAs are formidable forces which easily crush the hapless British Army, even though vastly outnumbered. The narrator of the book, Tony Block, who is a member of Pantegral, ascribes this to their "democratic" nature - continually referring to the old-style armies as "feudal". I have to say this aspect never quite convinces. More germane, though, are Block's attempts to answer the question "why?" - what are these NMAs for, why do people want to join in the risky business of fighting, what is the point? It's a measure of Adam's range and skill as a writer that in exploring these issues he is able to muse on the place of play in human evolution, the nature of love as well, of course, as the morality and purpose of war. If that sounds daunting, don't let it put you off - the narrative is compelling, and the tension between the NMA point of view ("we are a pure democracy: therefore whatever we do is right") and the horrific consequences that the war unleashes are very well done.
There is another theme running through the book - of the NMA as the stirring of some kind of beyond human life, a composite being with thoughts and consciousness of its own. This culminates in the only part of the book I couldn't relate to, the third part (only a few pages long) which sets out an interior monologue of one such giant. I found this hard to understand and to relate to the rest of the story. But for that, I'd have given it five stars.
Overall, an excellent book and a good, thought provoking read.
5.0 out of 5 stars Groundbreaking, But Needs To Be Read Twice,
This review is from: New Model Army (Paperback)
The book posits the social and technology changes in Western societies undermining their top-down structures. It’s set around 2030 and has the New Model Army – a peer-to-peer connected Taliban-style volunteer army - comprehensively defeating the British Army in a war spread across the English Home Counties.
The book has multiple layers: the first is the fighting. The NMA’s weapons and technologies are plausible (pervasive connectivity, super-Twitter, super-wikis, drone and satellite feeds, layered AI-centric network defences). The descriptions of the battles and decision-making during them are convincing & the result is what you'd expect from the contest between (say) big Blue IBM and (say) Google when it was young: no contest. This layer’s thesis is that battling through (say) Basingstoke Town Centre & blowing large parts of it up is an enthralling experience for the 18-to-30 demographic (male and female, gay and straight).
The second layer is a debate about hierarchical social systems and the role of religion: the thesis is that process whereby order emerges spontaneously from economic activity will spread to the political sphere and kill off top-down structures. A big step, but the point is made plausibly.
The final layer (and I suspect this lost some readers) projects the networked armies with AI support becoming discrete self-directing entities.
So, very thought provoking and beautifully written. Just remember you have to read it twice.
2.0 out of 5 stars A book of three faces..,
This book immediately gripped me with it's fascinating conceit of the 'democratic' fighting force enabled by modern technology, and to start with it was a real page burner. Despite possible flaws in this idea in reality (I mean when do on-line discussions ever reach a consensus?) the writing was good enough to allow suspension of disbelief, a principal requirement of any good fantasy/sci-fi novel.
However I feel that the author really didn't know what to do with the book after the initial chapters. In retrospect I think this would have made a really excellent short story or novella, in these formats there is little need for a 'clean' or rounded ending. However in attempting this with the dull second, and pretentious third sections the author managed to lose my interest and enthusiasm completely.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but ultimately unsatisfying..,
A clever idea, albeit with a number of obvious flaws that other reviewers have pointed out. Roberts writes well, and he is able to present strong characters and a convincing plot, obvious holes notwithstanding. What ultimately lets this book down is the ending. Magical realism, flights of fancy, call it what you will, but I felt it struck the wrong note, jarring with the rest of the book and leaving me feeling unsatisfied. I enjoyed the first two-thirds of this book, but I'm not sure I'd seek out any more of his work.
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Anarchist Starship Troopers,
One star would have been too harsh so I gave it two because the writing does flow nicely, and I'm sure the author meant well. I struggled to finish this novel however due to the severe strain on my credulity.
The novel begins by explaining and then showing how an anarchist, net-savvy army could trump a conventional 'feudal authoritarian' army on any given day of the week.
Like uneven paving slabs on a pavement however the sheer number of wilful errors kept tripping me up as I read through it: like the two tanks that get their turrets blown off without killing the rest of the crew inside; the supposed uselessness of air power in an urban setting, and the regular army troops who, like German army extras in a B war movie, are unintelligent (not cool enough for the net age obviously), lacking in initiative and are apt to concentrate in tight groups or advance in line like napoleonic troopers.
The regular army in this setting is obviously a strawman for the more flexible NMA which relies exclusively on internet comms that, for some reason, is never hacked, jammed or simply watched for intel gathering on what tactics the 'free soldiers' are going to vote on next.
With so much literature out there on what actual war and war technology is like it takes a special kind of ignorance to portray this as any kind of realistic example of war. Al-Qaeda too makes use of the internet and is stateless, but when they put soldiers into the field they get shredded by regular troops, and while they are indeed ghost-like they have proven incapable of bringing down even weak regimes. In conclusion - harmful, but not giants.
Still, perhaps the actual war bit is not important in this novel. Nor the bland characterisation. What this novel is about is the central concept of democracy in action. But there again the ideas fall down when held against empirical evidence. Orwell has written about the problem anarchist armies had in the Spanish Civil war with respect to trying not to have officers or a hierarchical structure. Athens did not rule all of Greece, and it was soundly beaten by Sparta.
Ok, let us not be pedantic about the details. Unfortunately the details matter here because they are the sand that the whole structure sits on. Some of the conceptual errors were so bad that I began to wonder whether this novel was actually a satire on Anarchism - perhaps it was. I remain confused.
And while I said the writing style was good, some of the descriptive metaphors used are pretty toe curling.
Still, if you like anarchist politics, aren't too clued up on real warfare and love multi-player first person shooters, then this novel will surely rattle along at a breathtaking pace, and I hope you enjoy it even if I didn't.
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking,
Based on a world that is not that unlikely. You only have to consider the modern phenomena of Anonymous, the occupy movement, the recent riots in the UK, and 'flash mobs' to realise that this could happen.
The most revolutionary idea is that you could build a true democracy where everybody gets a say.
I feel the ending is a little week though.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great Concept, Poor Execution,
It has a Fab Concept. However it doesn't quite work. Some of it is too heavy handed and not well enough researched to be credible.
I bought this book because I liked the premise, a change in the nature of warfare brought about by better information available to the whole army through a wiki style network. It has promise for some very interesting stories, but the author instead wrote a political polemic based on very old fashioned stereotypes and without bothering to do his research.
Accepting that our narrator is probably unreliable, given he is definitely going insane, and the twist that happens at the end (no spoilers) it is clear that we cannot rely on him. However there are bits of his prior experience with the British Army that just don't work for me (having been in the TA from 1989-1992 and knowing a fair number of current and recently ex-service personnel).
The primary character is supposed to have served in the British Army for a few months before deserting because he didn't like the extreme discipline. This itself is fair enough, a few months would see a soldier through basic training and into the specialist training for their arm of service. This is the period when the most discipline is imposed. All through the book the success of the new model armies is based on the rigid inflexibility of traditional forces that cannot think for themselves. This is the bit I find most difficult to swallow, even back in the 1980s soldiers were being taught to solve problems and work through gaps in information and orders, especially regulars that were deployed to Northern Ireland. By the current period, with the huge increase in peacekeeping operations and the small insurgencies thinking is a core skill for all ranks, not just senior officers. The stereotype might have been true for the 1950s conscripts, but even then I doubt it.
This is not my only problem with the book though. While it is clear that the author can write decent prose, there is still not a whole lot of thinking going on about the consequences of how the technology changes things. There is some in there, but not enough. For example why didn't the British Army just turn on massive jammers of the wifi signal when they came up against the NMAs? Also why are the NMA better on a man for man basis when they are largely untrained volunteers up against properly trained soldiers in a veteran army? I can get local superiority allowing them to win battles, but in an exchange of fire I don't see how wiki info turns people into better shots.
Anyway, the book is riddled with holes and could have been edited into a crisper better book. Unfortunately it wasn't.
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New Model Army by Adam Roberts (Paperback - 10 Mar. 2011)