The Future War, by S. M. Stirling

futurewarRemember, we have no fate but that we make for ourselves.
-John Connor, closing the circle


The last book concluded with the Connor clan finally feeling that they’ve aborted Skynet (or at least the more malevolent aspect of it).  There was sacrifice, but at least humanity was safe from its own mistakes.

Oops.

As it turns out (as readers of the last book will recall), John made a bit of a boo-boo, which kickstarted the very event he wanted to prevent.  As a result, Skynet becomes sentient.  And while it’s behind schedule, Judgment Day is about to finally fall.  And this is how The Future War begins.

It’s a little strange to be writing this review at this time.  Not too long after this book was released, Terminator 3 was released in the theaters, with its own take on the Rise of the Machines.  So in some ways, comparisons will be inevitable.  In my opinion, though, The Future War beats Rise of the Machines all hollow.  Granted, it had the advantage of having a couple of other books to set it up….

The book opens as the Connors and Dieter finally unwinding in Alaska.  John feels that the war has (finally) been averted, while Sarah isn’t quite as certain; she’s built up a great deal of paranoia over time, especially since she’s thought it was over before.  And she has good evidence to back it up-after all, if Skynet never rose, then Kyle Reese would never have gone back in time, and John wouldn’t exist (the fact that he’s essentially a miner’s canary for everyone in this book hasn’t escaped the author’s notice).  That proves to be all to correct when, somewhat behind the original schedule, Judgment Day kicks off.

Unlike the recent movie, The Future War is mostly involved with what happens after the nukes hit as opposed to trying to keep them from hitting at all; one of the things that really caught my attention (and impressed me) was the methodology of just how Skynet arranged to achieve maximum effect for low cost as far as using its nuclear arsenal.  To make matters even more cloudy, Skynet doesn’t kick things off with Terminators immediately-the Luddites, who have been around the edges in the previous books, are made into pawns of Skynet (unknowingly, of course; working for the machines doesn’t exactly fit their philosophies).  This allows the artificial intelligence all kinds of other ways of exterminating the human race.

While we don’t get to follow some of the surviving supporting characters from the last book, we are introduced to a number of characters, working with and against the fledgling resistance.  Standouts are Ninel Petrikoff, a young woman who is very much a member of the Luddite movement who crosses paths with John a few times, and Lieutenant Dennis Reese, who is not only in the army, but is also suspected to be the father of Kyle Reese, the man who started the ball rolling in time.

A great deal of this book deals with simply surviving Skynet’s initial gambits, and solidifying a resistance movement so that they can reach that future point in time where humanity finally defeats the machines.  The book also covers much, much more time than the other two; while those books could be measured in months, this one covers years of activity.  Seeing the changes in John is what stands out for me, as he finally evolves into “the great military leader” that he’d heard he would become all his life.  I also liked to see how a couple of important facts might have actually helped the resistance early on, thanks to the wonders of time travel.

And for those who are wondering where the book fits in with the recent film:  in spite of a throwaway paragraph near the book’s finale, there really isn’t any tie to the Terminator 3 movie (and that paragraph doesn’t really fit in with what we know from the events in Terminator 3).  Consider this series an alternative path in the Terminator series, and on that vein, consider reading these books.  They aren’t exactly filled with things exploding and blowing up every five minutes like in the movies, but they do have a bit more meat to them-and I’ve always been partial to that kind of thing.

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