Monday, May 09, 2005

Nanomachines vs. Broadswords: There Will Be Dragons by John Ringo

John Ringo's There Will Be Dragons is that unfortunately-rare entry in the sword-and-sorcery genre, a rational tale that begins with a realistic world, and then explains (in a believable way) the reason people might opt for rule by the mightiest swordsman.

As the story begins, Earth is a paradise founded on three things: virtually unlimited power, widespread use of powerful nanomachinery, and a ruling council of dilettantes whose use of that power is monitored by Mother, a world-sized computer network. Mother decides which uses of power are allowed, Mother manages the multitude of sub-microscopic nanomachines, and Mother watches everything. Mother, however, is not human.

Worse, several of the Council members are all too human, and have figured out how to get what they want despite Mother's watchfulness. In a coldly calculated move, they lock up all the power sources in a battle between the pro-nanomachine Council and themselves. Meanwhile, the rest of the world's population is instantly reduced from effective immortality to reliance on the few hobbyists who have kept farming, herbal medicine and defense by the sword alive in the world.

Across the world, millions die as their protections fail. Explorers on the Sun and deep in the mantle die instantly. People who have Transferred their personality to a cloud of nannites fall into a pile of dead machine-mites. Those who are flying, or swimming far offshore, or living in remote places with no supply of food and water and no roads out, are just as doomed, though it will take a bit longer to die.

In the region we think of as the US, refugees begin to flock to the renaissance-faire community of Raven's Mill. The smith at Raven's Mill, Edmund Talbot, finds himself the unwilling Mayor of an inviting source of food and slaves, following the inevitable rise of banditry and looting. Fortunately for the town, Talbot knows what is needed to protect civilization from tyranny in such times, and it is more than a stronger sword-arm.

With the help of his wife and daughter, a young man named Herzer Herrick who chose the wrong side first, several wonderful military characters (Gunny, for example, is the spit-and-image of ex-Marine Agent Gibbs on NCIS), a sympathetic though embattled Council member, plus a truly ingenious feel for mixing high-tech and medieval arts, Talbot fights his war on several fronts. The result is a great action thriller, with the excellent combat scenes we've come to expect from Ringo, intriguing characters and an expandable plot that should mean we can expect a series of equal quality.

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