the Little Red Reviewer

Defenders by Will McIntosh

Posted on: May 13, 2014

defendersDefenders by Will McIntosh

published May 13 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Orbit!)

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Can my entire review just consist of “holy fuck this book completely shattered me”?  Because really, that’s all you need to know.  But a seven word review? boring!

 

It’s 2029 and our first contact with an alien species is an invasion. The Luyten look like giant six or seven legged starfish, and they fell from the sky.  We attacked them, they fought back. They seemed to always know where our troops were, what our plan was. The Luyten could read our minds. They knew every thought going through every human’s mind, our dreams, our fears, everything.

 

And they were winning.

 

Homeless, hungry, and freezing to death, Kai helps a Luyten who claims to be an unarmed and wounded scout. A tenuous trust grows, and the Luyten begs Kai to keep silent about it’s hiding spot. How is a starving teen supposed to say no to a human soldier who promises food and a warm bed?  The Luyten is captured and tortured.

 

But still, the Luyten were winning. There was nowhere we could hide, nothing we could hide from them. If a Luyten were within eight miles of a human, the entire Luyten population knew what that human was planning. We needed to come up with something, and fast.

 

Are you scared yet? You should be. And this is only the beginning.

Using the last vestiges of the technologies the Luyten hadn’t destroyed, brilliant geneticist Dominique Wiewall designs the Defenders. Nine feet tall, three legged, and lacking the serotonin the Luyten depend on to read minds, the defenders are the perfect soldier.  There needs to be no confusion on this point: they aren’t robots, they aren’t cyborgs. They are flesh and blood, bone and brain, able to die just like you or me. And we had so little time. Designed and trained to act independently and not tell the human leadership what they were up to (so the Luyten couldn’t figure it out), they Human/Luyten conflict was over in a matter of weeks.  The surviving Luyten agree to live out their lives in internment camps.

 

Once the war is over, what do we do with our perfect soldiers? They can’t be retrained, they can’t even fit in human houses or schools.  When the defenders ask for Australia to be ceded to them, the human leaders agree immediately.  When the defenders ask to take the Luyten POWs with them, for the purpose of executing them, we only think about it for a few minutes before agreeing. We’ve gotten rid of two annoyances forever, right?

 

After fifteen years of silence, the defenders want to talk to us again. A group of international ambassadors are invited to Australia, and included in the group are college professor turned Luyten communication expert Oliver Bowen, and his daughter-in-law Lila Easterlin, who is a genetic engineer.  The defenders are so very happy to finally have contact with their human creators, they want us to be proud of what they’ve built, what child doesn’t crave the approval of their parents? They look up to us, because we can do things they can’t, but they also see us as inferior, because we are controlled by our petty emotions.

 

Each human ambassador is given a “special friend”, a defender who shows them around the rebuilt city of Sydney, shows them what the defenders have been up to all these years.  And what have the defenders been up to all these years? Building up tons of weaponry with Luyten technology, and enslaving the surviving Luyten.  The humans are horrified.  We designed the defenders to be smart, fast, tactical and not to take no for an answer. Is this what that leads to?

 

(Seems like I’ve given away a lot of plot points, doesn’t it? Well . . . . Nope, I haven’t. I’ve barely scratched the surface.  McIntosh has jammed about ten novels worth of tightly woven plot into less than 500 pages, but you’d never know it because the pacing is so damn perfect.)

 

Which is worse? Being in invaded by psychic aliens, or being occupied by giant soulless soldiers who shoot first and never think to ask questions later? At least with the Luyten, we could ask why they invaded. Oh wait, we shot them first and it barely occurred to us to ask them questions later either.   Are we only getting what we deserve?

 

There’s not much hope or happiness in Defenders, and the story only gets darker and bleaker as it goes on. Lila’s “special friend”, the defender Erik, moves in with her and her family. Human cities are slowly rebuilt to defender proportions and needs.  Lila and her husband Kai aren’t even allowed to show affection for each other, because Erik gets violently jealous.  Her husband and son held hostage, Lila has no choice but to act as a platonic wife to Erik. As the months go by, and her husband grows more and more frustrated with the situation, Lila begins to think that maybe Erik isn’t as bad as people think.

 

Defenders is not an easy book to read. And I’m not talking about the violence. The defenders were our creation and our salvation, and they never turned on us. They did exactly what we programmed them to do: winning, surviving, using military tactics to their advantage. We designed them, unleashed them, and then we failed them.  They aren’t mad at us, they’re just acting exactly as their genetics demand.  The perfect soldiers need something to fight, something to be superior to. They don’t care who it is.

 

There are scenes at the end of this book that absolutely destroyed me.  I was terrified to turn the page and see what horrific dehumanizing Stockholm Syndrome-esque thing would happen next, and then found myself giggling uncontrollably at a shopping scene that was assuredly not funny. I was giggling because I was losing hope. I was giggling because at this point, I felt like if Lila and her family had nothing else to lose, then neither did I.

 

And when you have nothing left to lose? that’s when you start to do the really crazy stuff.

 

And that is power of McIntosh’s writing.  When the characters scream “run”, you will want to run. When Lila’s fear paralyzes her, you won’t be able to move. As the story continues the writing only gets better, the plotting only gets tighter, the tension ratchets up again and again and again.  Every book I read by McIntosh, the guy just gets more and more amazing in his ability to absolutely shatter me.  His novels cross into mainstream territory while still being pure science fiction.   Have a friend who enjoys a good war-time thriller but won’t touch science fiction? Give them a copy of Defenders.

 

I read the last half of this book in an all afternoon and into the evening reading marathon because I just could not put it down.  Screw dinner, screw cleaning the kitchen, screw going to bed at a decent time. I needed to know if my species was going to survive through the night.  What if I put the book down to go to bed, and when I woke up all of humanity was dead?  See what I mean, about how engaging McIntosh’s writing is?
I have an awful habit of terribly misinterpreting what authors meant for their readers to get out of their books. Maybe the novel was a social commentary on clowns and snow-cones, and all I saw was the carnies taking tickets for the Ferris Wheel. Maybe McIntosh just meant for this to be a crazy-ass edge of your seat scifi novel. But I got a very powerful anti-war commentary out of Defenders. And it scared the living shit out of me.

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10 Responses to "Defenders by Will McIntosh"

This sounds right up my alley – bleak and hard to put down!

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what is it about these bleak books? I don’t ever want any of these things to ever happen…. but i can’t put books like this down!

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Finished! Very good, but hard to watch, because it takes its subject matter seriously enough that actual characters that you care about get killed. Thanks for the review!

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I love McIntosh’s books. Love Minus Eighty blew me away last year and I’m anxiously waiting on my library to get this book in.

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better get on their hold list right away. or better yet, see if you can get it quicker through Interlibrary Loan.

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Wow, what a great review – and look at that cover – course this is a bloody scary book – just look at it!!!!
I don’t know whether I want to read this or just get under the bed covers and hide for a week or two.
Will think on it……
Lynn :D

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ummm yeah…. you’ll probably want to hide under covers while/after reading it. McIntosh writes some really powerful stuff!

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It is available on Amazon for $1.99 for kindle.

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that’s a steal!! any idea how long that deal is good for?

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Picked up the ebook the other day when it first dropped to $1.99 and look forward to it. I’ve read just a taste, but now that SFAL and vacation are over I hope to get TONS of reading in. Fingers crossed.

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