Re-reading Defenders, by Will McIntosh
Posted April 6, 2017on:
When a book has the kind of effect on you that McIntosh’s Defenders had on me, it’s time for a reread!
published in 2014, read my original review here.
What I remember most about the first time reading this book is that it scared the living crap out of me. Not “omg, there’s a spider, someone kill it!” scared, not “why did a fire truck just pull into my apartment parking lot” scared, but the kind of scared that made me want to hide in the back of the bedroom closet, cover myself with a blanket, and be so silent that nothing would even know I existed.
When people ask me about books that had a strong emotional impact on me, this book gets a mention.
The first time I read Defenders, I read the last chunk of it in one sitting in the middle of the night because I was afraid that if I put the book down all the main characters would die before I could pick the book back up.
I’ve been itching to re-read Defenders for over a year. It’s so absorbing that it makes for an absolutely perfect escapist thriller. Near future, but so ridiculous that none of this stuff could ever happen. . . right? I mean, right?
Actually, the only thing in this book that I see as not happening in the next 50 years is us making contact with an alien species. That’s how the book opens: contact with an alien species that lands in remote areas on Earth. The Luyten are telepathic, and can easily read the minds of any human within 8 miles. When we come up with plans to attack them, they can easily pull those plans out of the mind of anyone involved and nearby, so a counter attack is easy. The Luyten didn’t come here to exterminate us, but they don’t want to die either. I’m reminded of something author Tade Thompson said when I interviewed him:
“LRR: If Earth does experience first contact with an alien species, how do you think humanity will react?
TT: If we encounter intelligent life, blind panic and religious hysteria.
If we encounter flora or fauna, blind panic and religious hysteria.
Humans don’t handle the unknown well. Look at our history.”
Blind panic. That’s exactly how humanity responds to the Luyten. The gist of Defenders is that we develop genetically modified cyborg type “people” who have no serotonin in their systems, and thus the Luyten can’t read their minds. Known as Defenders, the cyborgs (genetically modified people? I really have no idea what they are) are let loose to come up with their own military plans to defend humanity from the Luyten. And we win. Next up, what the hell do we do with hundreds of thousands of Defenders who don’t have any enemies left to fight? Even if we wanted to destroy the Defenders, we can’t. They’ve been programmed to be military geniuses. Oh, and they’ve enslaved the Luyten and started creating their own weapons with Luyten technology. The Luyten will do anything to survive, and accept life as slaves to the Defenders because slavery is better than death.
I won’t lie, re-reading Defenders was still scary AF, as there is some truly disturbing stuff that happens in this book. But it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. My primary emotion this go around was that I wanted to yell at all the humans “how can be you be so short sighted!”. Because they are. We feel threatened by something we don’t (don’t want to?) understand, so we react violently and defensively. We make the same mistakes, over and over again. It’s not that we don’t learn from our previous mistakes, it’s that most people aren’t interested in learning from them.
I was mad at the humans in Defenders for being so reactionary, but I felt truly terrible for the Luyten. If you read between the lines, you’ll figure out why the Luyten are willing to accept slavery and why staying alive was so important to them, no matter how terrible their lives were. The humans in the book? Too busy with their own lives to give a shit about the Luyten, even when faced with a similar choice – is slavery and submission better than death?
Defenders is an escapist near-future thriller, but humans act like this – narrow minded, reactionary, quick to violence – every day. That isn’t fiction, and it isn’t near future.
Dear idiot humans: ask questions before you start shooting, ok?
Dear Will McIntosh: Any chance you’re working on more fiction that takes place in the world of Defenders? Because YES PLEASE.