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New Model Army Paperback – April 15, 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
Roberts has given us an army of one multiplied by how ever many happen to be around. Each is involved in doing what needs done, and is trained well enough to be able to do many jobs well, if not perfectly. The hierarchy is not eliminated, it is not needed in the first place. Being wirelessly "wired in" to one another and making use of real time electronic systems lets this army be mobile, organized, and effective.
"Take me to your leader" has no meaning when talking with a member of the NMA. Instead, there is a "democracy" in play that makes both no one and everyone a "leader". One of the more fascinating premises of the book is the willingness of all to make immediate compromises - and act in a professional manner when the compromise went against a particular soldier's desire.
There have been some "armies" that operated in similar fashion to that invented by Roberts. The actions of guerrilla forces often act in an independent fashion tactically, even though the overall strategy is set by a formal leadership.
I was fascinated by the concept Roberts proposed and while it is appealing, I'm still trying to come to grips with the practical application, given egos and ambition that are such a large part of human nature. This was well worth the time and, though there are some disjoints, the mental exercise was fun.
I notice that when a sci-fi book is particularly successful, it is no longer referred to as sci-fi but often as the rather more upmarket 'speculative fiction'. Well, it doesn't really matter, but it falls into a fairly well-developed branch of sci-fi, along with books such as Ken MacLeod's 'The Star Fraction', possibly Neal Stephenson's 'Zodiac' - politically motivated, near-future, high-tech and web-enabled.
Politically, the book harks back to Roberts' first novel 'Salt', with a strictly non-hierarchical anarchistic 'People's Army' running rings around the conventional forces. It is set in a similar future period and geography as Ken MacLeod's 'The Star Fraction', and the supporting tech is clearly one possible extrapolation of the World Wide Web, smart phones, peer-to-peer networking. Whether it is a truly realistic extrapolation and whether this libertarian army could actually function feels less important than the air of optimism, of hope in an alternative future that the novel somehow brings. Again, for me, a very similar experience to 'The Star Fraction'.
However, it is darker and far more realistically human than Ken MacLeod's first novel. I found the central character wholly believable, wholly sympathetic, someone I ended up really caring about. To be able to couple this real empathy for a character with the high-tech politics of the novel brought the latter into sharp relief, humanising the possibilities in a quite extraordinary way. Although 'Pantegral' (the name of the 'New Model Army') seems at times like some huge soulless beast, the name 'pan' (all) and 'integral' (essential for completeness) suggests that all the individuals are equally important for the functioning of this beast - unlike the hierarchical and so fragile conventional army that it faces.
I really didn't want this book to end. Rarely have I been so caught up with and cared about the characters in a novel. The fact that I also found the politics and technology hugely attractive just, for me, completed one of the most satisfying books I've read in a very long while.
New Model Army is a very original and interesting and a little crazy near future military science fiction novel. It is written from the point of view of a soldier of a new type of always online democratic (sort of) army supposedly built under the same egalitarian concepts as the Wikipedia. It is a very crazy idea but Mr. Roberts develops it intelligently and makes it (almost) credible. It is also a very bleak narrative of the end of civilization as we know it; its destruction produced, or accelerated, by the world-wide proliferation of these type of armies, which are voluntary, cheap, easy to assemble, and also easy to dis-assemble and get its members all online, all connected all the time, but at the same time untraceable in the middle of any city, anywhere in the world. Scary but plausible and well written.
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