XI: Systemic Shock by Dean Ing
I was going to review the entire trilogy but Life Is Too Short plus I want to save up my bile for the Baxter HC that just came in .
Synopsis: It's 1996 and the entire world is about to go pear-shaped. Young Ted Quantrill is a teenaged boy scout out with his officious and incompetent scout master when WW IV starts [WW III was General Sir John Hackett's 1985 WW III]. The book follows several main points of view: Quantrill's, Boren Mills' [an intelligence officer] Sandy Grange's [a 9 year old girl at the beginning of the story], Eve Simpson [teen holostar sexkitten], and an omniscient narrator writing from some point after WW IV. Don't know much about that last except he's an American and possibly a Mormon.
The war is between the Sino-Ind Axis [India, China, the Arab Islamic Republic: the swath of nations from China through Africa to Brazil] vs the white nations. Because the Allies are not going to be saddled with the Free French this time round, the Russians appear to have suffered extreme oxygen deprivation prior to making important policy decisions. Various Cool Toys get used. Plagues are spread. A 100 million tree hugging American Liberals are righteously turned to ash and carrion and American becomes a much more conservative, Mormon dominated nation. Eventually, The Sino-Ind alliance makes one critical mistake too many and the Allies win, more or less. Canada [I am not making this up] kicks ass all round, humilating their irksome RUS allies with chocolate and occupying the border states from New England to Oregon. Mexico does its own territorial landgrab down south. The Mormon President is dying of cancer and unaware that his Veep has much darker plans for Streamlined America.
Is there some reason Veeps are so often evil in US fiction?
Mills is a power hungry intel type and we follow his career as he backstabs his way to serious power, including stealing a Chinese power fusion generator for his own use. He forges an alliance with Eve Simpson, who is also adept at grabbing power.
Ing seems to have weight issues with women.
Odd bits: just prior to the war, they find life on Venus in SS. How odd for a book written this late. Perhaps it is foreshadowing the disconnect between the rest of the book and the real world as it appeared in '81.
Quantrill is just the sort of young boy you don't want along when the bombs fall because he's a survivor and to press the point home, pretty much nobody he meets is. After one of the scouts he is with is run over, he leaves his scout group and hooks up with Abby, an obliging lady who introduces 15 year old Ted to sex. They make their way to Oak Ridge, which has been invaded and taken over by nasties. Abby is raped and murdered but Ted kills or maims everyone with the misfortune to get between him and a "delta", a cargo dirigible the bad guys have hijacked. He helps the Delta escape. They take him to a research station, drop him off and are then destroyed by a Sino-Ind aircraft.
Ted meets the Granges. The father is dying of rad-poisoning. He and Sandy get along fairly well. After Sandy recovers a nuclear device [Which AFAIK ends up rotting in a cave somewhere], she and her mother are kidnapped by a splinter sect of insane Mormons. Ted thinks they are dead and runs off to join the army.
Ted is noticed as a fine killer and sent off to Section T to get further training as a gunsel [AFAIK, Ing doesn't know the other meaning of gunsel]. He kills various people. His instructor and another recruit go off on mission and don't return. Eventually, he is sent out to step on the nutcase Mormon sect with his sometime sex-partner Sanger. They wipe the sect out but Mrs Granger is murdered and her baby and her daughter Sandy escape in circumstances which lead Ted to think they are dead, killed by Ba'al, a huge Russian boar who has made that piece of Texas his territory. Instead, Sandy has formed an alliance with the boar.
T Section is turned into Search and Rescue and Ted is kept on as a man who will kill anyone who inconveniences the new President's plans for rebuilding America as a Mormon theocratic state.
Oh, and all of Israel hops into hovercrafts and relocates to Cyprus and eventually, to L5 colonies. I'm Not, as Dave Barry would say, Making This Up.
As long as Ing is focussing on Quantrill and Sandy, this book is ok. Quantrill's continuing alienation and isolation is well handled, I thought. I think I have had teachers like Mr Littleton, the scout master. Mills is flat. Simpson is flat. The farther away from Sandy and Ted we get, the worse the book is, with the caveat that Ing handles fog of war fairly well. Both sides make terrible errors based on mis- information, with the exception of the RUS, who are imbeciles who have taken up Tragic Error Making as a serious lifestyle, with or without misinformation.
This TL has a WWIII in it which we did not and that may have accelerated tech development some. I don't think it's credible that ABM systems would be as advanced by '96 as in this TL but at least that point is arguable. The Deltas are cool and seem to have solved the ground crew problem which makes airships uncompetative today. I think one would have to be a complete lunatic to throw biowarfare around the way people do in this book but the downside is made extremely clear by the end.
The Sino-Ind-Islamic alliance strains credibility. The oil price kickbacks seem motiveless. The RUS reaction to them, even granting their resentment of their current ex-Superpower position seems poorly thought out and the joint US/RUS strike which condemns millions of Indians to starvation seems to me obviously insane, given the geopolitical balance of power in this 1996.
The Jews in Space plotline seemed tacked on and intensely stupid, even in '81 when the absurdness of O'Neill's space colony fantasies was not so obvious. Everyone else in _Systemic Shock_ has the fortitude to prevail under trying circumstances and it seems out of character for the Israelis to just run away.
I think it is highly unlikely a nation which has just lost half its population and economy could function as well as the US does in this book. Even more unlikely is the role Canada plays: Ing torches Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Edmonton, plus some minor cities. I don't think he had any idea how much of our population is urban and how much of our economy is concentrated in Central Canada. I don't think he realises how few cities we have: Kitchener is minor by any standard and last I checked, we were the 11th largest city in Canada. There's no way we'd have a functioning country after losing those four cities plus some minor ones and we'd certainly not be in a position to fight WW IV as we do or to take over 25% of the US, as desirable as that might be in the circumstances.
Still, despite the demented bits and the disjointed structure, a fun book. Completely silly but entertaining in a Doom kind of way. You just have to forget anything you know about the nations whose names appear in the books.
1: Perhaps Baxter will surprise me and the book will merely be bad instead of awful but that's not what the first few pages lead me to believe.
All Millennial reviews are copyright James Nicoll and are put on this website with his permission. Nothing here may be copied without the consent of the original author.Webpage created 24-02-2000, last updated 21-10-2007.