New Model Army is a science fiction novel by Adam Roberts.
Pantegral is a giant, a democratic gestalt entity whose thoughts are populated from the thousands of minds that make up a New Model Army, it's intelligence is born from the almost limitless knowledge available on the internet. Stalking through the fields and towns of south west England he has brought war to the country, he cannot be stopped, cannot be beaten and lives for conflict.
Narrated in the first person by Tony Block (who may be considered an unreliable narrator) New Model Army tell's the intriguing tale of a future Britain where many of the general populous have become dissilusioned by the thin veil of "democracy" and have risen up to join a new form of army, one that speaks of a true democracy where everyone has an equal place and vote on all decisions.
This is an incredibly ingenious idea, almost a crowd sourced army that uses modern technology to function where each member has a connection to the NMA "wiki" and can update realtime maps, give intel and vote on the next course of action. It's democracy in it's purest and most anarchistic form and truly representative. Although it's set in the year 2030 it almost feels like it's set in the current year and the lack of a real democratic government rings alarmingly true. One of the first pages of the novel has a passage that reinforces this concern:
"We don't have a democracy, in the world of politics today; we have an oligarchy punctuated by occasional contests to determine who has the most effective control of the media"
- sound familiar at all? The fact that the novel is set within blighty makes the message all the more personal (I even recognised a few places in the book).
This new form of army works well thanks to advances in technology, although the theory is quite ancient. It's a very clever idea and something that does appear to be researched at the moment. The American's have a term for this - Network Centric Warfare and even admit that it would allow for new forms of organisational behavior.
The NMA we follow in the novel is hired to war with British forces who still adhere to strict and unflexing methods and as such are hopelessly outclassed by a group that has a hive mind mentality, are completely automatous and have a much clearer view of the battlefield. This kind of organisation does rely completely on technology and communication though, a decidedly weak point and one that would need redundant fail safes to be used effectively.
The quality of writing is superb, the style compelling and there is a nice subtle humour present that lifts the work and encourages the reader to engage with the novel. Through the narrator (and the situation he narrates from), the author manages to explore the ideas of democracy, anarchy and political change, presenting both sides of the philosophical argument and leaving it up to the reader to form their own opinions. The question of why we fight is also explored to great effect as is the rise of artificial intelligence
I must admit that I found myself liking this book more that I thought I would, I wasn't really impressed with Salt when I read it years ago and haven't read any of Adam Roberts work since but in hindsight it may have just been the wrong time for me to read it and may go back and revisit when time permits.
I loved this novel, from the effortless intelligence that allows the easy reading of the novel's fairly serious subjects, to the clear and engaging action sequences and the clever use of current and near future technology, highly recommended.
Written on Monday 21st March 2011 by Antony.
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