Drone Review

By | Tuesday, April 13, 2010 Leave a Comment
Red 5's four-issue Drone finishes up this week, so I thought it warranted a series review.

The story takes places in the sooner-than-you-think future. The U.S. Army has developed a series of humanoid robots that are controlled remotely via a satellite feed. Obviously, they're sent in to war zones to act as infantry while the actual soldiers can control them safely from thousands of miles away. While this works well in theory, it proves to also be somewhat insecure as a young hacker is able to tap into the satellite feed and, ultimately, provide over-ride instructions to one of these robots.

This actually comes in handy when a Kazakhstani force, with the aid of a Chinese programmer, manage to block the main feed from the remote U.S. soldiers. They attempt to capture one of the human programmers to obtain an over-ride code, which is when our hacker protagonist and his friends virtually step in to control one of the drones via the backdoor feed to try to help save the programmer. Most of the four issues, then, revolves around the hacker and his friends controlling the drone through Kazakhstan to help save the programmer, while at the same time, avoiding an undercover Chinese agent who's been dispatched to kill them in person.

The concept itself isn't very far-fetched. The basic idea of remote fighting has been bandied about in fiction from Ender's Game to Toys, and it's really not very removed from the attack drones currently in use over Pakistan. But there are couple of points that really stand out in the series. First is the hackers' reactions at finding and watching the drones remotely. They very much sound like they're watching a movie or video game, and I have a lot of doubt that a more real reaction is possible. It wasn't until Americans start getting killed -- the alleged 'good guys' -- that the hackers start to see the threat as a real one and begin to intervene.

Second, the formal conflict is decidedly NOT addressed in terms of right and wrong. Yeah, the Americans are implied to be in the right here, by virtue of the protagonists' nationality, but the actual conflict in Kazakhstan is left somewhat open to the reader's imagination. Now, maybe I'm reading more into a simple omission than anything, but it was quite easy for me to see that the Kazakhstanis that are shown aren't necessarily the aggressors. Maybe there are several Kazak factions warring internally. Maybe there's an outside force invading. Despite the fact that there's clearly a war going on in the story, and it's written in a post-9/11, never-ending-war-on-terror era, it manages to avoid making much of a political statement. The story is about the technology of war, not the politics of it. Which I find impressive to pull off in a time when everyone is almost a little too quick to take sides on who's right and who's wrong.

It shouldn't come as a big shock that the protagonists win. (Note that I'm leaving some suspense by not saying WHICH protagonists win, or how!) The story wraps up pretty nicely with a couple of... not exactly twists, but some angles that are a bit different than what one would typically expect from this type of story. The only thing I would've liked to have seen a little more of was the sense of anti-climax that someone controlling these drones would inevitably feel when the battle ends and the feed cuts out. In video games, players get a denouement after the last big battle, but these guys wouldn't have that luxury. I would expect some sense of ennui to set in for the characters before readers got to those final scenes, but that was skipped over.

Overall, it was good read. The characters felt pretty real, and I think there were some good points brought up regarding how technology can/is used in warfare. It doesn't answer any of those questions it brings up, but that's not the point, I don't think. It's much more of a place to begin one's discussion, without the frivolity of Robin Williams or the extended (though well-crafted) prose of Orson Scott Card.
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