Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Drakon, by S.M. Stirling

Drakon, by S.M. Stirling, continues the saga of the Draka from Marching Through Georgia, Under the Yoke, and The Stone Dogs. The Draka, having left Earth and colonizing the Solar System, as well as several of the neighboring star systems, have bioengineered themselves into Homo Drakensis, faster, stronger, smarter, nearly impossible to kill, and effectively immortal. The remaining humans in their empire, a handful of the billions that once lived on Earth, have been genetically altered to become Homo Servus, with all trace of aggression or resistance gone, living only to serve the Draka masters. The fly in the cosmic ointment, however, is the remnants of the American-led Alliance have also survived on Alpha Centauri and some other systems, and are still working hard to counter the Draka menace.

Gwendolyn Ingolfsson, one of the elite Draka in charge of a research team creating moleholes (an FTL shortcut to other space-time loci) is caught up in one during an accident and ends up in an alternate universe, a parallel Earth (recognizably our own) where the Draka never existed. Stranded in a technologically backward universe, she decides she must either conquer this new world for the Draka all by herself, or find a way to signal her own people so that they can join her in conquest. The Draka have a total disregard for normal human life, since they regard them as little more than animals, useful as servants and sexual toys, and from the moment she is marooned on Earth, she casually and brutally kills anyone who stands in her way.

Her killings attract the attention of Henry Carmaggio, an Italian police detective, who joins forces with Kenneth LaFarge, a cybernetically enhanced member of the Alliance who has been sent through another molehole to track Ingolfsson down and kill her before she can fulfill her destiny. She quickly establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with in the business community by licensing out bits and pieces of high tech from the future whence she comes, especially biotechnology, at which the Draka are unexcelled. She and her human cohorts, whom she keeps loyal to her by sheer physical intimidation and her conscious control of enhanced pheromones, rapidly move to secure Gwendolyn’s objectives, while Carmaggio and LaFarge are handicapped because they are unable to tell anyone about this space invader or risk being locked up in some mental ward.

Like Stirling’s earlier works in the series, this one can be pretty brutal, with lots of blood and guts, and some fairly explicit sex scenes. If you’ve been reading the earlier ones, though, the Drakon is not nearly as cruel as some of the ones in Marching Through Georgia or Under the Yoke. Some of the Draka in those seemed to take delight in human suffering, but evidently Gwendolyn comes from a more sophisticated age when humans have been subservient so long that harsh measures are no longer necessary, so this colors her attitudes, making her a more enlightened slave owner, if such an oxymoron can exist.

Most of the plot is pretty predictable, nothing we haven’t seen before in a hundred works. The one thing that Stirling does a good job of is getting into Gwendolyn’s head and creating thoughts that are internally consistent and quite revealing about the way a member of the master race thinks. If Stirling were more subtle in other places in his works, I’d suspect him of some backhanded commentary on racially motivated hate groups, but most modern day white supremacists don’t seem to have enough emotional detachment to be proper Draka. I’m hoping Stirling doesn’t end up like John Norman did with his Gor series, degenerating into endless master/slave fantasies without benefit of a new plot or idea for the last dozen books or so.

If you’ve been following the series, then you ought to read this one just to keep up, but aside from a few hours of mind-numbing entertainment, it doesn’t have a lot to recommend it.

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