zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Book Review: Kill Decision

Book Review: Kill Decision

Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez 

Shlok Vaidya did an early review of Kill Decision here previously. I finally have caught up to Shlok and I’m ready to add my two cents without giving away any spoilers:

First, I enjoyed the book. Kill Decision is a tense, fast-moving,  page-turner. As I tend to read books at night before bed, Kill Decision kept me up later than I should have been and I was reluctant to put it down. I fully agree with Shloky that this book is a movie waiting to happen.

Secondly, the plot is all too plausible. While there is some of the normal deus ex machina in action-thriller novels of this kind, readers who are knowledgeable about the defense and intel worlds will have the uncomfortable feeling that while the first lethal autonomous drones would not operate on exactly the clever and disturbing premises outlined by Suarez , they will be within shouting distance. And with all the same dangerous societal implications.

Third, like William Gibson, Daniel Suarez excels as a conceptual novelist – the writer as futurist ( a near-term futurist in the latter case) with his labor of love going into theme, setting and plot. Suarez creates dynamic hooks for his books. Unlike Gibson, character development is still a weakness for Suarez. Of all the characters in Kill Decision, only Odin, the SOF covert operative, projects real depth and motivational development; he is the Sun around which the other, mostly one-dimensional characters, orbit – including the book’s nominal protagonist. The good news is that you’ll be so wrapped up in the flow of the story that you won’t much care. I can also commend Suarez for having a George R.R. Martin kind of willingness to ruthlessly terminate his characters with extreme prejudice because it kept me wondering until the very end as to who would survive.

Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez is strongly recommended.

13 Responses to “Book Review: Kill Decision”

  1. Madhu Says:

    1. Read your review. Very nice.
    2. Click on William Gibson link.
    3. Read William Gibson interview.
    4. Read about someone named Charles Stross, someone who doesn’t think space travel will ever happen for practical reasons.
    5. Find Charles Stross’ blog which has something to do with economics.
    6. Think to self, bitchily “why are there always such strong predictions on economics blogs given the state of the science? Personality type?”
    7. Wish fervently for that not to be so (space colonies are awesome to think about!) but skeptical nature concedes that the points are well made.
    8. Immediately look for other bigwigs that make counterarguments.
    9. Find them and then think, “well, if it’s all going down that way I’d absolutely still rather work on the space colonies because why not? If the second largest human activity in terms of people involved is working for Britain’s National Health, then what’s a few trillion worldwide on space travel research? Pennies to the dollar if looked at that way.
    10. Wonder why a certain male crabbedness seems to be a part of contemporary sci-fi.
    11. Look up stories by said author (I think, with the internet you never know) and find they use words like “flounced” and “icily.” As in: characters flounce and say things icily.
    12. Realize why I never read science fiction; the ideas are involving but I am forced to endure sentences that contain characters that flounce (often female robots) and say things icily. 
    Instead of love robots or whatever, why not use one’s imagination to imagine using nanotechnology to make oneself wildly irresistible to nonrobots? Not enough crabbed sci-fi writers read Glamour. The ven diagrams are all off…. 

  2. Madhu Says:

    I’ve been reading a lot of Mindy Kaling recently. I have just managed to meld zenpundit and William Gibson and Charles Stross and economics blogs and Mindy Kaling musings all in one go in comment above.
    The future is so with the Mindy Kaling type scientists I bet, and thank goodness too. 

  3. Madhu Says:

    There is something wrong with the say I worded the British National Health thing. Maybe I am thinking of India’s railroad system and the largest government employers? 

  4. Justin Boland Says:

    I felt, strongly, that this book could have been a 20 page white paper to much stronger effect.

  5. zen Says:

    Hi Doc Madhu,
    Thank you!
    My thoughts on intergalactic travel ( I did not go find the Stross gent or flounce icily):
    Intergalactic travel would require faster than speed of light travel to be practical, even with time-dilation effects. Even travel within a galaxy would not be practical beyond 10 -20 light years at the speed of light and at something less, say one-tenth the speed of light and you are limited to the closest star systems. 
    The energy requirements for either scenario are enormous – orders of magnitude greater than anything humans have dared to generate on earth. Perhaps an engine that relied on splitting subatomic particles instead of atoms would do the trick but that’s a physics question for readers like Shane Deichman or Dr. Von.
    The opportunity cost of research to develop this kind of energy delivery system for propulsion would run into the trillions. This would effectively hold true for distant alien civilizations as well.
    What kind of return would justify such an expenditure? A mew element maybe? But if we can harness energy on the scale assumed above, WTF do we need to get resources from light years away for? 
    Which makes the alleged UFO sightings/ Third Kind encounters one hell of an expensive joyride for the aliens.  

  6. Mr. X Says:

    “Which makes the alleged UFO sightings/ Third Kind encounters one hell of an expensive joyride for the aliens. ” Or a suggestion, along with the aliens’ appetite for blood from humans or cattle, and bizarre sexual torture of abductees, that we are not dealing with ETs but EDs (extra dimensional beings, as alluded to in an infamous Area 51 call to Art Bell in the late 1990s). AKA to the ancients as ‘gods’ or demons. It is one thing to imagine an interstellar if not intergalactic civilization would bother with us, much less plant us here. It’s quite another to argue they’d have nothing better to do than molest us sexually and spiritually.

    The demonic theory would not preclude that the astronauts/cosmonauts were genuinely followed by the angels, or demons, that they saw ‘up there’ as mankind made its first steps into the cosmos. I do wonder if any of the Soviet cosmonauts ever sought spiritual guidance for their UFO sightings.

  7. Madhu Says:

    Zen, those were exactly the points Charles Stross made – distances and energy requirements are prohibitive. “Why not colonize the Antarctic or Mojave desert first if it’s so doable?”. That sort of thing.
    While my head understands, my heart rebels. What’s the point if it’s going to end with a dead sun after billions of years anyway – or plenty before that due to some man-made or natural pestilence? And the universe is just as unreliable?
    I am all, “what is the point of all you futurist physics-y guys and gals when I figured this stuff out in my twenties from Woody Allen movies?” Can you tell me, precisely, what is the difference between you naysayers and private libertarian space futurists and Chanel’s latest fall line? It’s all just human activity of one sort of the other, destined to end in one way or another, so why are you taken so seriously instead of Chanel designers?
    If you think about it, the creative efforts and preservation attempts– given the utter emptiness of space — is sort of amazing. I don’t know where I am going with this except that I feel that I’ve wasted my time with the futurists and the speculative fiction writers and the science fiction fantasists and, most especially, with robots. Although, the robots are the perfect Deus Ex Machina, aren’t they?
    Footnote #1:” Other than sex and art, the one thing that the characters in Woody Allen’s movies talk about most is the meaning of life, in one form or another. So, throughout Allen’s body of films and writing, is there a consistent position on the meaning and value of life that’s expressed by his characters?[2] Despite all the jokes and gags in his work, the focus on romantic love, the desire and struggle of his characters for self-expression through art, I think the answer is yes, there is a position on the issue, and it’s that life is inherently and utterly meaningless.”
    Footnote #2: “This view, that the universe is fleeting, and that life is thus meaningless, appears in a number of Allen films. In September, for example, Lloyd (Jack Warden), a physicist, explains to Peter (Sam Waterston) what he does for a living. He didn’t work on the atomic bomb, he tells Peter, but rather on “Something much more terrifying than blowing up the planet.” Peter asks, “Is there anything more terrifying than the destruction of the world?” Lloyd replies:
    Yeah—the knowledge that it doesn’t matter one way or the other, that it’s all random, radiating aimlessly out of nothing, and eventually vanishing forever. I’m not talking about the world. I’m talking about the universe. All space, all time, just a temporary convulsion. And I get paid to prove it.[6]” 
    Footnote #3: “I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world. For me, there is no difference between Ripley from “Alien” and any Katherine Heigl character. They are equally implausible. They’re all participating in a similar level of fakey razzle-dazzle, and I enjoy every second of it”


  8. Madhu Says:

    I have quite possibly one of my top ten comments ever waiting in moderation and the only reason I am writing this comment out is because I fundamentally distrust the internet and am sure it exists to thwart my every move and, thus, the comment isn’t really in moderation but stubbornly refusing to be printed because it doesn’t like me.

  9. Madhu Says:

    Of course, I don’t really truly mean some of that above.
    Science to soothe the existentially stressed, science to soothe the soul:
    “Can there be another big bang?” “Was there another big bang?” Etc.
    “Big Bang or Big Chill or neither?”
    “Another universe or universes before the Big Bang?”
    “How many universes?”
    And so on and so on; the professionals can take it from here and have….

  10. Negro Diente Says:

    liked the book overall, thought the bit with the ravens was a bit far fetched. main protagonist also a little too one-dimensional, of the stoic superhero mold who also happens to be REALLY intelligent….real operators i’ve met are far far far from that level of sophistication, unfortunately.

  11. zen Says:

    Hi Negro Diente,
    Yeah, I think the trend, given the economic pressures, in this genre of publishing is to write a novel as a semi-screenplay which expedites optioning them. So you get more superheroes (which incidentally are the most profitable films now).
    I think there’s a difference in the operators of today, recruited, trained and molded by longstanding bureaucratic IC institutions and the era of the OSS and the early CIA when you essentially had a labor pool of talented amateurs, eccentrics and adventurers with a surplus of elite connections and a minimum of bureaucracy that permitted a wide latitude for improvisation. Not that the latter were ubermensch but they were a varied lot (albeit not demographically) in terms of their worldly experience not noted for their risk-aversion (or professionalism). Nor was there much accountability if something went wrong. Most of those guys would not get through a background check today – too many conflicts of interest, shady contacts and long overseas experience

  12. Negro Diente Says:


    excellent points. it’s a shame really. my own thoughts on the security clearance process and the national security establishment mirror yours. we weed out exactly the type of people we want/need 

  13. GT Says:

    I recently blogged about Kill Decision (in relation to Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster) and referenced your review:  http://newsworthynovels.blogspot.com/2013/03/drones-suarezs-kill-decision.html

Switch to our mobile site