Terminator 2

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.


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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Rising Storm, by S. M. Stirling

risingstormHis father is from the future.  He probably hasn’t even been born yet.  How the hell does that work?
Not too well.  At least as far as his dad was concerned.
Yeah.  Imagine sending your father back through time to become your father, knowing he’s going to get killed.
Do it to my old man in a flash.
-Brad, Carl, and Yam, MIT students

Well, once again, the Connors have managed to blow up Cyberdyne (or at least the all-important research facility).  When we last left our heroes, the I-950 Infiltrator was destroyed (or killed, depending on how you look at things), John Connor was on the run with Dieter von Rossbach, and Sarah Connor is headin’ back to the asylum.  But the future looked…well, safer, anyway.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to our heroes, the Infiltrator left behind a backup plan….

Which brings us to Rising Storm.  There are four plots moving along all at once in the early part of this book; firstly, John has accepted that in spite of previous events, there’s an excellent possibility that Judgment Day-the day when the machines will rise to power via Skynet-is going to happen (although not on any previously known schedules).  So, he (with Dieter’s occasional aid) begins to set up a network of humans to “get out of the way” of the imminent apocalypse, one of whom is an attractive MIT student who is also an exceptionally skilled hacker.

Dieter spends some time away from the gang, because he’s being tracked-both by the CIA and by his old bosses in the Sector (and I still wanna know more about them, dammit!).  He does his part as well, setting up a couple of contacts in preparation for Judgment Day.  Of course, the fact that he looks identical to the original Terminator is a little bit of a stumbling block in establishing any bona fides….

Sarah, on the other hand, is back at the asylum.  She deals with this in a more level-headed manner than her last visit (as moviegoers may recall), but she runs into a potential stumbling block when she is once again face to face with the doctor who “treated” her the last time around.  Fortunately, she has a little bit of outside help to count upon when the time comes to get out.  Too bad that there’s individuals who really don’t want her leaving.

But the backup plan of Serena Burns is already in action; Clea and Alicia, the two clones built from the Serena template, are working to a) finish off the Connors (surprise surprise), and b) ensure that Skynet comes into being.  To this end, Clea (who has been force grown to adulthood) begins to get involved with Cyberdyne survivors, using the building blocks of the T-1000 technology as her ticket in.

There’s a slightly different tone in this book than in the last one.  Infiltrator was a book about prevention; realizing that the threat was not over after all, and trying to stop it.  This one contains the terrible realization that the future may be unstoppable, so the characters are more in “damage control” mode.  And since most people generally don’t believe that machines from the future are out to insure their existence, it makes matters more difficult for John and company.  Even so, some supporting characters from the last book continue to make their presence felt, such as the mysterious Tricker (whose failures in Infiltrator come back to haunt him early on) and Jordan Dyson, who has come around to the Connors’ point of view after the Serena incident.

We also get a bit more world travel in Rising Storm; we hop from South America, to North America, to-of all places-Antarctica.  What we don’t get, unfortunately, is the sense of menace.  While there are the traditional Terminator robots around, they don’t seem as unstoppable as the folks we’ve seen in the movies.  To be fair, these robots were built with inferior materials from past technology (from their perspective, anyway), but I always considered the appeal of the Terminator movies to be the fact that a single robot just kept coming for you, no matter what you did.  That feeling is only on a different scale here, concerning the inevitability of Skynet.

All the same, Rising Storm was a decent book, although it’s destined (probably) to be consigned to continuity hell when the T3 movie finally hits the theaters, and it’s got an ending which is sure to chill fans of the books and movies to the bone-and the process of getting there is pretty fun, too.

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Infiltrator, by S. M. Stirling

infiltratorHer peripheral vision caught a Jeep passing by outside.  The driver was male, no passengers.
Adrenaline kicked her heartbeat into overdrive and her stomach clenched like an angry fist; her breath stopped as though she’d been suddenly plunged into cold water.
Sarah froze with the sandwich almost in her mouth.  I can’t be having the DT’s, she thought.  I wasn’t drinking that heavily!
She could have sworn that she had just seen a Terminator drive by.
-Sarah Connor’s first glimpse of Dieter von Rossbach

If you thought blowing up the Cyberdyne Corporation was going to stop the Terminators, think again.

It’s amazing to me that a movie nearly twenty years old still works today.  Of course, Star Wars and Star Trek and others have done it, so why not this one?  For those who may not have seen the movies The Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgment Day, here’s a brief recap.  At some point in the future, approximately around the 2020’s, humanity has nearly become extinct; mostly because of an artificial intelligence called Skynet, which was originally designed for defense, and decided that humanity in general was a threat-so it started a nuclear war which did in most of humanity; then it constructed machines to kill the rest.  One of the most frightening machines were the Terminators:  built to look human, but were all machine.  Designed to infiltrate and destroy the pockets of human resistance within.  It wasn’t the best in the world at infiltration, but it was very good at killing.  And they were very hard to stop, even with futuristic technology.  Things were dim, until a man named John Connor managed to lead humanity to victory over the machines.

Almost.  In a last ditch effort to deal with the problem, Skynet sent back in time a pair of Terminators, one a highly advanced model, to attempt to kill John Connor before he became a problem.  Connor sent back two operatives to prevent that.  The Terminator tried to kill his mother, Sarah Connor; the second, John when he was a young kid.  In the process, the first operative fell in love with Sarah and managed to father a child-John (I hate time travel).  The second operative was a modified Terminator that helped Sarah and John destroy Cyberdyne, the corporation that built Skynet, before it could actually do so.  Having broken a large number of laws in doing so, they fled the country, secure that they had prevented that terrible future from ever happening.

It’s not that easy.  This is the basis of T2: Infiltrator.  In the future, prior to John Connor’s victories, Skynet begins a project to infiltrate humanity again-but this time, it does so using human embryos.  One of the first is called Serena, a model T950.  She’s close enough to human to even fool dogs (who have always had a knack for sensing the wrongness of a Terminator).  She infiltrates a human resistance cell, and is very, very close to getting at John Connor when Skynet recalls her.  It seems that something funny is occurring with time, and she is to be sent back in time to insure the birth of Skynet.  And if she should do in the Connors in the process, so much the better.

Meanwhile, in Paraguay, the Connors have managed to set up a life for themselves.  Sarah’s running a shipping/smuggling business, and John’s in a military academy.  However, their lives are shaken up considerably when their new neighbor arrives to start his own ranching business; probably because he looks exactly like the T101 Terminators sent to alternately kill and protect the Connor’s.  However, his own background is just as potentially dangerous to the pair.

A great deal of this book is setup.  It chronicles the early training of Serena and her infiltration of humanity-both in the future and in the present, and it chronicles the recent history of the Connor’s and the rebirth of Cyberdyne.  Once people start interacting, though, things start happening quickly.  There’s also a number of subplots going on at the same time-a character named Tricker, whose true identity and purpose remains secret, is influential in getting Cyberdyne back on its feet; a fellow named Ron Labane travels the country, who is fearful that one day, machines are going to be able to do without people.  While it seems that he’s got a good insight on the future, he’s also a fruitcake-a very dangerous fruitcake.

One of the things I was rather amused by was the fact that the voice of the familiar Terminator is not the voice of his look alike, Dieter von Rossbach; however, the fellow supplying that voice is in this book-the accent is written so perfectly that for a moment I thought this character was Dieter!  As for Serena herself, she didn’t really give me the same feeling of implacability as the original Terminators; those things just kept coming and coming.  On the other hand, what she lacks in quality, she makes up for in quantity; read the book, and see what I mean.

It’ll be interesting to see if T2:  Infiltrator matches up well with the rumored Terminator 3 movie that is bandied about the internet so often; after all, the rumor implies the next Terminator will be a woman…like Serena.  There’s apparently no connection between this book and the rumored movie.  It’ll be even more interesting to see what happens in the next book-because there’s a couple of gaping loose ends left hanging at the end of this one.  On its own, Infiltrator works okay, even if it seems like it has too many balls in the air at once sometimes.

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