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Literature / Kill Decision

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Unmanned weaponized drones already exist—they’re widely used by America in its war efforts in the Middle East. In Kill Decision, bestselling author Daniel Suarez of Daemon duology fame takes that fact and the real science behind it one step further, with frightening results.

Linda McKinney is a myrmecologist, a scientist who studies the social structure of ants. Her academic career has left her entirely unprepared for the day her sophisticated research is conscripted by unknown forces to help run an unmanned—and, thanks to her research, automated—drone army. 'Odin' is the secretive Special Ops soldier with a unique insight into the faceless enemy who has begun to attack the American homeland with drones programmed to seek, identify, and execute targets without human intervention.

Together, McKinney and Odin must slow this advance long enough for the world to recognize its destructive power, because for thousands of years the “kill decision” during battle has remained in the hands of humans—and off-loading that responsibility to machines will bring unintended, possibly irreversible, consequences. But as forces even McKinney and Odin don’t understand begin to gather, and death rains down from above, it may already be too late to save humankind from destruction at the hands of our own technology.


Relevant tropes:

  • Action Survivor: Linda may be a professor, not a hardened soldier, but she didn't survive years of field work in the African bush by being a wimp, and it shows.
  • Almighty Janitor: Invoked with Odin's unit, who are all non-commissioned officers so that they only answer to military high command rather than civilian authority, allowing them carte blanche to do what has to be done.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Odin tells Linda that, if she thinks drones controlled by the US government are frightening, think about what if they're being used by "North Korea, or Burma, or narco-traffickers, or Dominionists, or AT&T."
  • Attack Drones: Pretty much the entire premise. It starts out conventionally enough with airstrikes, but the swarming types using Linda's algorithm come into play about midway through and become the real threat. The villains' ultimate goal is to use the drones to destroy an American carrier strike group and pass the attack off as the actions of a rogue actor, resulting in an international drone arms race in response.
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  • Badass Beard: Odin has one.
  • Better the Devil You Know: The phrase is used almost word-for-word by Odin regarding cartel-dug illegal tunnels between Mexico and the US.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Mordecai notices a wet spot on his crotch after a near-death experience.
  • Clever Crows: Odin has a pair of ravens that carry cameras and do recon for him. They are of course named Huginn and Muninn.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    • Odin and his team have secret bases all over the world stocked with everything you could possibly need to fight a Robot War.
    • Mordecai's condominium has a hidden exit and thermite grenades to destroy evidence.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: Odin's team have one at SubTropolis.
  • The Face: Strickland is this, though he becomes painfully aware that he doesn't have the same tech-savvy as the rest of his team.
  • Fake Static: Foxy does this when Odin tries telling him to leave them and run.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Prakash has this.
  • He Knows Too Much:
    • After Strickland discovers that someone is stealing his team's code and gathers them, the villains have them killed before they can investigate further or tip anyone off.
    • The villains also try to pull this on Mordecai after he tries calling for help when Odin and Linda pay him a visit.
  • Hell Is That Noise: In-Universe, Linda says that the sound "is from Hell" about the noise created by a mass drone swarm aboard the freighter being used as a "colony".
  • Hidden Villain: We never see the true face of the villains orchestrating the drone attacks, only a pair of spin doctors and a lower-level agent in their employ.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Inverted. Odin tells Linda that the reason why artificially intelligent drones driven by insect logic are such a threat is because humans would eventually bring an end to hostilities, even with the worst atrocities. Insect logic, on the other hand, cannot be reasoned or negotiated with and will just keep attacking until either all the targets or the whole drone "colony" is utterly eradicated.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: Inverted. Marta tries to reassure Henry that Odin didn't want him dead, or else he would already be.
  • Ironic Echo: Ritter says it's Nothing Personal when he thinks he's about to kill Odin. He gets said to him later when Mordecai has him shut into a flooding compartment.
  • Lesser of Two Evils: Odin uses this to defend his tipping off an insurgent leader to an impending airstrike, explaining that the guy is a moderate compared to his rivals and would-be successors and would fight other foreign extremists and drug dealers once the West gets out of the way.
  • Little Useless Gun: Subverted. Though low-calibre guns are the only weapons the smaller drones can mount, at close range and in enough numbers, they're enough. Indeed, several characters are badly hurt by them.
  • Logical Weakness: It turns out that drones using insect-style pheromone sensing to distinguish friend and foe means that Odin and team can use those same pheromones to conceal themselves or decoy the drones away.
  • Morality Pet: Linda quickly becomes the moral compass of Odin and team.
  • Multinational Team: Odin's team includes Korean, Japanese, Latino and ex-Soviet personnel.
  • Mundane Utility: Inverted. A derivative of Vocaloid - and yes, the copyright is expressly namedropped, as is the used to do "virtual pop stars in Japan" thing - is used by the villains to fake a video of the colonel ordering Odin's team to stand down.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Odin reluctantly wanted to recruit Mordecai, but Mordecai initially wanted nothing to do with Odin's quest. Then the villains repay him for tipping them off about Odin and Linda by trying to have him killed too, which drives him into Odin's arms.
  • Not in My Contract: Henry says something to this effect when he decides to give up on working for the villains.
  • Nothing Personal: Ritter says it's nothing personal to Odin when the former thinks the latter is vulnerable. It gets said to him later on.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Linda becomes very concerned when it looks like Odin's been caught off guard by a certain development.
  • Offstage Villainy: Odin is reluctant to get the help of Mordecai because he's supposedly horrid scum even by Odin's loose standards. But apart from a not-entirely-unjustified attempt at calling the authorities on them and a throwaway mention of his porn being of the cephalopodic variety, we don't actually see him being the kind of absolute monster that deserves Odin's scorn.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Linda refuses to take Odin's explanation about his team and their work at face value. Would you believe it if you were abducted by a mysterious bunch who claim they're out to save the world?
    • Odin's team have to evade the authorities several times because as a top secret unit, not only would the police not know about them, but their operating on American soil is illegal.
  • Redemption Equals Life: The guy who decides to stop working for the villains survives the book. The other two who stay the course don't.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Odin pulls this on Henry, freaking the latter out.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Hoov getting killed by a sniper.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Linda sees a man who has been shot so many times by drones that much of his mangled upper body is painting the walls and ceiling.
  • Title Drop: Lethal Autonomy: Drones that fly themselves and make a kill decision without direct human involvement. A major revolution in military affairs... ...combining all the worst aspects of cyber war—anonymity and scalability—with the physical violence of kinetic war. A successful design could be stolen and cheaply punched out by the tens of thousands in offshore factories, then sent anonymously against anyone without fear of retribution.
  • The War Has Just Begun: In the final chapter, Odin warns Linda that what they've managed to accomplish has only managed to delay the villains by a year or two.
  • We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future: Averted. When Odin's team get a video from the colonel ordering them to stand down, Odin is Properly Paranoid enough to smell a rat.
  • You Are Number 6: Invoked and justified on multiple levels.
    1. The Experts Odin acquires are given a number - Linda's is Six - so that, should the villains somehow listen in, they won't get real names that they can use to pull I Have Your Wife with.
    2. Every soldier in Odin's team is is a sergeant, and will stay sergeants their entire career; Commissioned officers receive their commission from the Congress. That means the civilian government is answerable for their conduct. Noncommissioned officers answer only to the military high command, and can thus be completely deniable.
    3. Odin himself was chosen to lead the team because he was a Doorstop Baby. With no biological relatives, he is completely immune to the aforementioned hostage situations.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Linda meets Odin after the villains, having stolen enough of her work for their drones, try to have her assassinated.


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