Daniel Squarez‘s latest techno-thriller Kill Decision isn’t a happy book. It’s an especially unhappy book if you’re excited about quadcopters, RC planes, self-organizing swarm AI, or any of that neat, fun stuff.
Daniel’s first published book was Daemon, a novel about a programmer who, upon discovering that his time is up, creates a distributed dumb-agent network of actions and actors triggered by reports in news feeds. The thing that made Daemon so interesting wasn’t just that concept, it was that Daniel has a really good grasp on the technology, so everything that happened in the book kind of made sense. There was no magic bullet, it was all ‘oh, yea, that could work’.
Kill Decision is a book about drones, specifically autonomous drones that can kill. It was only a few years ago that I remember wondering when someone was going to strap a handgun (even a fake one) to a quadcopter and attempt a robbery by drone. Kill Decision is a book about just that, except the handgun is quadcopter optimized and the person getting robbed is the USA.
It’s been a while since I’ve read any popular techno-thrillers, but from what I remember, Kill Decision follows the arc pretty well. There’s a tough soldier type, a naive but smart audience proxy, a team of good guys for gun fodder, and a big bad. The pacing is good, the details are good, and the book keeps you guessing. I guess my only complaint is also the books point, that in the end, with a robot that can kill, it’s really hard to figure out who the bad guy is. In Kill Decision there isn’t a Snidley Whiplash twirling his mustache just off stage, at least that we get to see, and that lack of a direct villain gives the book a feeling of existential angst. The bots just keep coming, and in the end, there isn’t a clear win or loss.
Lots of thrillers are spy novels with more gadgets. They’re Jason Bourne, a lone operative outwitting the watchful, ever-present eye of big evil. It’s a big data dream, outwitting the system. Kill Decision is different. Kill Decision is a zombie novel, except the zombies are cheap, deadly, swarming technology.
If you can handle that kind of anxiety, and you like books about AI, maker, and military technology, Kill Decision is an easy recommendation. Also, go watch this video of Joi Ito interviewing Daniel Suarez at the Media Lab. Joi gives Kill Decision two thumbs up.