Earlier this year Greg Ellifritz posted his Best Reading of 2019. If a person who reads 10-15 books a month likes a book enough to put it in an annual “best of” list, it’s probably worth my time to check out. I’ve been making my way through that list, along with other stuff that catches my eye. Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez is one of the best fiction books I’ve read in a very long time and it will probably appeal to a lot of you.
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Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez
Kill Decision imagines a dystopian future where drone warfare has exceeded our imaginations and poses an existential threat to humanity. The new form of drone warfare – swarming, autonomous, kill-decision-capable drones – concentrate unprecedented power in the hands of just a few people. Sounds far-fetched, but every device used in Suarez’s book is borrowed directly from the real world.
Most of the story focuses on the elite team of special operations guys from “The Activity” who are trying to stop things before it’s too late. Throughout the book I was constantly amazed at the breadth of Suarez’ knowledge. In this story he talked about firearms, lockpicking, computer security, social media and influence operations, ants and swarming behavior – a ton of discrete disciplines.
One thing I don’t like in books is when authors try to dip their toe into something they know nothing about. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about: sentences like “he inserted a fresh magazine of 9mm ammunition into his Glock 22” can make me close a book and not go back. Fortunately, Suarez never did that. He was a little off on a couple things here and there, but never so much on something so obvious that I couldn’t overlook it. In most cases he was obviously knowledgeable and inserted some cool little gems. A couple examples:
- A tangential character early in the book goes to open a link in an email. He pauses, launches a virtual machine, and then opens the link from the more secure virtual machine.
- The main character is about to pick a lock. Before picking it he a.) identifies what it is (I’m not going to tell you what it is – if you’re a lock nerd you’ll want to discover it yourself), and b.) selects an appropriate defeat technique.
- A LOT of the government/military dialogue – complete with acronyms and slang – was accurate. I was very surprised at how well done that was, considering how poorly it is done elsewhere.
- The main character has two trained/pet ravens. That sounds outlandish, but I used to have a pet raven. Enough details were present to make that believable, like an inability to leave them unattended without them getting bored and tearing windshield wipers off vehicles (they are very curious and sometimes destructive animals).
There were a lot of little Easter-eggs like that throughout the book. My favorite part: At the very end Suarez provides a list of non-fiction books that detail the technology and themes explored in Kill Decision. It’s probably telling that I’ve read a lot of them. The rest are now on my list.
What I Didn’t Like
OK, so the book was a little formulaic in one way. I don’t think it’s too big of a spoiler for me to say: two people from two walks of life forced together by circumstance, initially dislike each other, end up falling for each other. Nothing wrong with it, but a pretty predictable. For the amazing job Suarez did with the rest of his storytelling I can’t be too mad at this, though.
There were also a lot of the typical, action-movie, plunging to the earth but waiting until the very, very. . .very last second to take life-saving action type of moments. Some of these were quite literal (like, in a flaming aircraft falling to Earth). Again, not a deal-breaker, but not necessarily my cup to tea.
I don’t want to belabor this – just give you enough to decide if it’s for you or not. I seriously enjoyed this book. Suarez explored a lot of big-picture themes like concentration of power, over-classification, and influencing elections through traditional media and social media. He did it while nailing little details, and telling a cracking good story. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, modern fiction thriller Daniel Suarez’s Kill Decision is at the top of my recommendation list.