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    Review of THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS by John Ringo (see his website) and Linda Evans

    Baen, March 2004

    Sonny, a tracked weapon system (Bolo) as large as apartment building, is sent to the planet Jefferson as his last home. Humans are hardpressed by two alien species and the Bolo represent their one great hope. Although Sonny is aging, even an aging Bolo is a terrible weapon of destruction. When the Deng attack, fleeing from even more rapacious aliens, Sonny, together with the effective military of Jefferson and some farmers armed with beehives, is able to kill all of them with no survivors. But the effort and its attendant destruction saps the Jefferson economy and rabble-rousing populists blame the planets problems on Sonny, the farmers who bore the brunt of the fighting, and on evil profiteers. Their election victory leads to continued encroachments on liberty--including dreaded efforts to disarm the citizens.

    Stripped of his human officer, Sonny is left under the control of the newly elected President of Jefferson. Sonny's artificial intelligence recognizes the falsities in the Poppa Party program, with its slave labor for farmers and dole for unemployed gang members, but he is unable to ignore the President's orders that he engage in riot suppression. And the Bolo's efforts lead to greater violence against the Poppa Party leading up to an insurection. Where the Poppa once reveiled Sonny, they soon come to depend on him as their primary defense against well armed and well led rebels--especially as they've eliminated virtually all of the disloyal Jefferson army.

    Authors John Ringo (see more reviews of novels by Ringo) and Linda Evans (see more reviews of novels by Evans) provide a mix of exciting military/Bolo action (the Bolo construct was initially introduced by Golden Age SF author Keith Laumer (see reviews of novels by Laumer)) and heavy-handed social commentary. The Poppa platform is a strange mix of pre-World War II Soviet anti-farmer genocide and work camp, anti-Viet Nam war peace activism, environmentalism, and pure stupidity (even the Soviets weren't stupid enough to completely destroy their warmaking ability although they certainly damaged it enough to make things easy for Hitler). Ringo's apparent belief that the right to bear arms can secure freedom certainly flies in the face of recent experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq where armed populations were nevertheless terrorized into docility.

    There are plenty of great SF books that include strong political statements and I don't begrudge Ringo's use of the soapbox of a novel to send his own right-wing/libertarian message (although I do think that lumping environmentalism with the Soviet genocide of Ukranian farmers is way over the top). From the story perspective, however, Sonny's long cogitations about the internal logic and factual problems in the Poppa program distracted from any plot and also made Sonny seem stupid.

    A couple of hundred pages of tightening and this could have been a first-rate military SF thriller.

    Two Stars

    See author Michael Z. Williamson's comments on this review.

    Reviewed 4/21/04

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