Book Review – The Unincorporated War by Dani Kollin & Eytan Kollin
In the world envisioned by this story, not only are corporations people, but people are corporations. They buy and sell shares of one another and pay dividends to their shareholders in a capitalist dystopia. It’s an interesting premise for a soft science fiction story, and it is why I picked up this book at the local public library last week.
The Unincorporated War begins with the Alliance (essentially all human colonies in the solar system that are beyond the orbit of Mars) in a lopsided war with Earth, which has more people, more money, and a much better logistics position. The cause of the conflict is primarily economic ideology. The Earth is for incorporation, the colonies not so much. The Alliance is fighting for survival against superior forces, but through skill by their leaders and incompetence by their opponents, they capture warships and drag the war out for years. And it does drag. The military actions are written well, but they become repetitive. After the third example of tactical brilliance by Alliance Admiral Black, the reader gets the idea. She’s clever and brave. Got it. But she’s fighting incompetents. The spaceship captains Earth commissions, former corporate executives and political toadies, are not her equal. (I should mention that Black herself was a former corporate lawyer, so how she instantly became a tactical genius is something of an unexplained mystery.)
In any case, Earth needs a commander to match Black and they get one just in time to save their incorporated assets. They guy they find, Captain Trang, is one of the book’s more believable characters. He’s not a bad guy. He believes incorporation is best for humanity and he’s willing to spend millions of his soldiers’ lives to ensure its continuance.
There are some real bad guys, though. Hektor Sambianco, newly elected president of the Earth government, is one. Now I love a bad guy I can really hate, and this guy is a good one — I mean bad one — I mean he’s despicable. But the fact he has no redeeming qualities makes him unbelievable. You do have to appreciate how manipulative he is, though. He would literally murder to get ahead. Lying is simply good business sense. Brain-washing, rape… yes, he does all these. He’s a flawless dark gem of an inhuman being.
And this is pretty much how I felt about the other aspects of this book. Everything is just a bit off.
- The attempts to bring a ‘hard science fiction’ element into it fell short of believable. The asteroid colonies and spaceships did not sound like they would work as described, although I admit I’m no engineer and don’t really know.
- The economics don’t make much sense. There is no ‘fiat’ government currency (like the dollar), so how are peoples’ shares valued, traded, and what kind of system could possibly track ownership of them?
- The subplot with artificial intelligences living in a virtual world was intriguing, but I think it detracted from the story. Without it, the ‘deus ex machina’ ending would not be possible — which would have been a good thing.
- The politics didn’t quite work either. Before Sambianco maneuvers himself into the presidency, the government is described as essentially ornamental. The most powerful corporations run everything. So, what keeps the corporations from eating one another?
- Some of the cultural/sociological/psychological/religious (soft science fiction) aspects had me scratching my head. One that most struck me was a sudden and unexplained resurgence of religious belief within the Alliance. Admirable Black becomes ‘the blessed one,’ and every religion, cult, and mystical system known to history suddenly has new believers somehow. This suggests that the war between Earth and the Alliance over economics will escalate into a religious conflict in future books. Religious wars make bloody history and good fiction, but the addition of that aspect wasn’t needed for this particular story, and, in fact, detracts from the theme up to this point.
The premise remains intriguing, but the story is lost in the details. I stopped caring about two-thirds of the way through and did not enjoy the rest of the book. I can’t honestly recommend it.