Book Review: Defenders by Will McIntosh
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Orbit (May 13, 2014)
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Last year, I read an incredibly moving book called Love Minus Eighty. As I closed the cover on the last page and settled back with a roiling mind and warmed heart, I knew right there and then that any future novels written by Will McIntosh will be going straight onto my to-read list. Someone who can write such a magnificent story (not to mention give me all these feels) certainly belongs on my list of favorite authors. And so that is how I came to review Defenders, and I don’t have to tell you how excited I was.
On the surface, the two books I’ve read by Will McIntosh could not be any more different. Love Minus Eighty explores love in a future caught up in a tangled web of digital information and social media. Defenders, on the other hand, is about war and an alien invasion. Taking place over a period of twenty years, the book is divided into three parts. First, it details humanity’s losing battle against the Luyten, a race of giant, starfish-like aliens whose greatest advantage over us is their species’ telepathic ability. How do you fight an enemy who can read your every thought and know your actions even before you do?
Enter the defenders, humanity’s answer to that question. Tactically-minded and highly intelligent, they are a new race of warriors genetically engineered to be immune to Luyten mind-reading. Needless to say, they summarily wiped the floor with the dastardly starfish. But what happens after the war is won? What on earth do you do with millions of seventeen-foot tall, three-legged extraordinary warriors now that there are no more aliens to fight? They were our saviors, our own beloved creations, and yet they might as well be as foreign to us as the Luyten. The rest of the book covers the tumultuous two decades that follow, exploring the idea of sharing the world with the defenders.
Like I said, superficially there appears to be very little in common between Love Minus Eighty and Defenders. But dig a little deeper, and a couple similarities come to light.
For one thing, thematically different as they are, both novels pack a powerful punch. Will McIntosh has a remarkable ability to write stories that reach deep into your mind and heart, raising questions about ourselves both individually and as a society. I enjoy his tightly woven plots and multiple narratives, but it’s the messages in them that transcend the content and that’s what ultimately makes reading his work so rewarding.
When you read Defenders, look for the forest, not the trees. Just as you weren’t supposed to pick apart the minutiae of cryogenics in Love Minus Eighty, I realized very early on that I shouldn’t get too hung up on the logistics of an alien invasion or the ins-and-outs of bio-engineering a whole new warrior race. This science fiction novel isn’t so much about the “science” than it is a thought-provoking social fiction piece exploring how humanity might approach an “us vs. them” situation. Needless to say, if you enjoy “what if” stories, this would be the ideal book for you. But even in the face of implausible circumstances, Defenders was an enthralling and sometimes terrifying read, given how the speculation always remained grounded in human nature. Humanity has essentially created an army of living, breathing killing machines with only a swift and decisive victory against the Luyten in mind, and now they must live with the consequences of their actions.What makes someone a friend or foe? Who can put a price on the cost of freedom? As ever, the scenarios in McIntosh’s stories are enhanced by his characters; they are the ones who help expand our understanding of the dire things happening in the world, very important in books such as these. And in Defenders, that’s no exception. Through the narratives of only a handful of characters – Oliver, Kai, Lila and Dominque – we are able to get a well-rounded sense of the culture and climate of the situation. It’s interesting to watch their relationships evolve over the years, and to see how the events of the war has influenced their individual beliefs and perspectives.
Of the two novels from McIntosh I have read now, I think Love Minus Eighty still remains closer to my heart, but Defenders isn’t far behind. Both are eye-opening works, and are simply excellent books. I’ve said this many times before, but this author deserves A LOT more attention!
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Orbit Books!
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