Keepers of the Peace - Keith Brooke

Reviewed for Usenet (or see Google archive).

Keepers of the Peace
Keith Brooke
Cosmos Books
ISBN: 1587153882 (Amazon link )

I ordered this book after reading a John Grant review, (on the web-site run by the book's author!) - "Those who seek out militaristic SF for the thrills, the gore, the glory and the melodrama should be prescribed this novel as a cure."

I have been reading Infinity Plus since it started, but have never read anything by the author before. I started Lord Of Stone, a fantasy, but just bounced off the opening. I plan on trying again as Keepers of the Peace impressed me so much.

This novel is set in the 2080s, where mankind has several habitats in the solar system. These habitats have won independence from Earth. The action on Earth is focused mainly on the US, which has balkanised. There is a war, of sorts, on-going in the US, and the colonists have a strong interest, with their army interfering on one side. This all sounds familiar right?

One thinks of Haldeman and Heinlein's takes on mil-SF respectively, of gung-ho approaches and Vietnam comparisons. This book is something else again. It's a novel about the de-humanising effect of the army, never mind war. To be fair, this didn't feel so subversive as the review above had told me this, and the Cosmos edition I have is plastered with quotes extolling the virtues, and the novelty of this
book's approach.

"...should be required reading for anyone who still
subscribes to the popular, dangerous fantasy of the
nobility of war." -- Lisa Tuttle

"...a cyber-anti-war story. Or anti-cyber-war.
Cyber-dove? Whatever, Lucius Shephard and Joe Haldeman
bounced off Heinlein and Gibson." -- Locus

The story is simple, it's the tale of a young man from farm on one of the colonies. He's called up. The tale is about him changing, how those close to him view him after he becomes a soldier, about how he views himself after a time, and how he deals with all that. Much of the effect of the army upon our hero, er, no, viewpoint character is better, is in his chip. The army fits all soldiers with both neural enhancements to control mood, hormones etc and communications gear - novel idea, ComTac is a series of simple detectors in your gut which can receive simple morse code type messages. Nothing complex, it's a visceral equivalent of hand-signals. The attraction of using the chip to both distance oneself from what is happening and to enhance one's performance in performing unpleasant tasks is a major part of the novel. In this world, it often functions in the same way as drink or harder drugs for those trying to deal with personal trauma. The result is a lot of concentration on how our hero Jed is feeling. This feels natural, as he's always adjusting how he feels. It's a nice conceit, we get lots of how he's feeling, even though he's not even thinking about that himself.

The writing is what impressed me; it's remarkably stark. The action is described in bleak, unadorned prose which looks simplistic. For example, the opening paragraph:

"Most of the people down here call us aliens. I
guess that's to be expected: Extraterran
Peacekeeping Force is too much of a mouthful, and
EP sounds too friendly. But we're still as human as
they are.

We just call them shit."

The main narrative is all first person, detailing Jed's experiences, but there are several other viewpoints presented in alternating chapters; these are often military progaganda, or, more interestingly, the views of people who have been involved with Jed - family, friends, lovers.

While I enjoyed these chapters, I felt that in many ways the main narrative was stronger and the alternating structure mainly interrupted Jed's journey.

A portion of the audience is now deciding not to read this book; you like your mil-SF right? You like the action, the gadgets, the heroic tradition of brotherhood etc. It's a strong genre, even outside of SF there is a successful market for mil-drama. From Cromwell's Sharpe (which I like!) through to the real exploits of the SAS type non-fiction. So why read something which is an obvious attack on all that? Simple; it's a very good book. It isn't preachy, it's the simple powerful tale of one man in the army. Think of the film Full Metal Jacket, which looks and feels like several other more heroic takes on Vietnam, but which is a very harrowing tale of the effects of the army on individuals. This book is like that.

(For what it's worth, mil-SF just isn't my thing. I love Haldeman, but never enjoyed any of the more pro-military authors out there. I suspect strongly that growing up in [a very quiet part of] Northern Ireland means that I lack that glamorous view of military life common to young men. I associate soldiers with frightened looking teenagers sweating in bulky, uncomfortable uniforms. In particular, the American, or rather Hollywood adulation of the uniform has always sat oddly with me.)

Sorry, drifted a bit there. Summary:

Keepers of the Peace is startling book about the de-humanising effect of military life, no matter how cool the gadgets get. Recommended.

Posted: Sat - February 1, 2003 at 12:22 AM