!!!!!SPOILERS!!!!LEAVE!!!!SPOILERS!!!!YOU SHOULDN'T BE HERE ANYWAY!!!SPOILERS!!!!LEAVE!!!!
Having read Soft Apocalypse of 2010, I was familiar with author McIntosh's engaging writing style. He has an excellent touch for pacing and tension. There's an ease to the verbiage that infatuates the reader and an organization of events that keeps the pages turning. Soft Apocalypse spun the world down with resolute bamboo engulfing the landscape and the Doctor Happy pill appeasing shattered minds. This time, the world is being lost through alien invasion. The Luytens have superior weaponry and can read peoples' minds. Humanity has no chance. As to the why:
How do you fight an enemy that knows your every move in advance?
Well, come to find out, all you need to do is expunge serotonin from the brain receptors and voilà! Problem is, however, removing it from people creates a catatonic state, so, make a brain that works without it, then install it into a neurologically re-configured human cyborg. But why stop there? Make these new dispassionate bashers like Qin Shi Huang Di's warriors: scary and impressivesay "sixteen-feet tall at least, walking on three legs, ghost white, their huge faces obviously inspired by the statues ringing [Easter] Island"(p.97)with artificial appendages that function as weapons, extremely intelligent to create battle plans, a 24-7 consciousness awareness so they fight constantly if needed(1), and, since Luytens' parapsychology antics drops off after eight miles, there is no strategic communication in the midst of attacks with these "Defenders" and any possible human handlers.
And they perform as intended, forcing the Luytens to unconditional surrender. It was an invasion that culled worldwide population over 60%, leaving 2.9 billion still standing and two-thirds of the novel yet to be read. Since Defenders cannot integrate with humansthe infrastructure of Earth's communities are too small for them; Falcons wouldn't have lost the SuperBowl if the Defenders had been signedthey choose isolation and ask to take the Luytens as prisoners of war. Australia becomes their 'hood and the aliens their work slaves. They tear down and re-build the cities to suit them. Australians who object either leave or are simply slaughtered.
Flash-cut to fifteen years later. There has been no communication between us and our wayward Hal 9000s. Suddenly, colloquy is initiated.
The saviors of mankind become its stranglers. They spread into a hundred or so different areas, including New Orleans, San Francisco, and all of France. They have also found a way to procreate: production facilities staffed by human genetic engineers churning out more Defenders. With superior weapons, air and sea superiority, and their own population surge, the Defenders turn into dictators. During this supposed integration they obliterate the artwork displayed in the museums of the world and hang their own "sociopathic narcissism"(p.345). But, worst of all, they level Disney World. Their mission to supersize citizenry habitants show they carry "boundless rage" against their human progenitors. After all, we had "designed killers"(p.289), not a litter of bionic kittens. Humanity is fucked.
Enter our own, past nemesis, the Luytens.
Through mindspeak, Fivea noncombatant Luyten captured earlier who becomes a liaisonoffers a collaboration to fight their common oppressors. Humans subversively inject serotonin into the new ranks of Defenders so the Luyten can intercept their battle-prone blueprints.
War over. Us and the Luytens won.
All Defenders are melted down for iron scraps or fat for candlemaking. And both species agree. No physical integration. Australia becomes home for the "giant starfish"(p.19). Some of the characters denounce their de facto citizenship and move in with the Luytens. See? Segregation is really a good thing, sometimes.
Defenders is fun with some notable subtexts that lay with you after finishing this 500-page read. The modern landscape of conflict, concern, and cooperation is adequately implied. Enemies one day become compatriots the next. Since priorities change through politics, economics, religion, and cultures' current whims, alliances with adversaries can roughshod over these barriers while pursuing common goals. But ideals and ethics get trampled in a lot of those so-called antecedences. Last century Joseph Stalin was our ally. It didn't take long for him to become our long-held anathema. With the exception of a jingoist like Kim Jong-un, changing ships changes manifests with new, binding crews. It re-enforces the feeling that we're all spinning in a whirlpool of whimsy.(2)
The only criticism I have of this novel is with characterization. Notice the above verbiage doesn't detail any of the players. With few exceptions, Defenders does not distinguish them in many meaningful or identifiable ways. They seem like archetypes; fenceposts to keep in bounds the twists and turns of the plot. They function as ordered, but do not enhance the read with much individuality or personal richness.
2) "Maybe it was inevitable. No matter how much you admired a people, when you went to war with them, you so quickly learned to hate everything about them"(p.327). This is assuming a callow and hidebound population and I object to that. Maybe it's true in this book's future world, but today I find it insulting. Necessary, maybe, but wearisome none the less.