The Road to Damascus, by John Ringo and Linda Evans, is a book set in Keith Laumer’s Bolo series. It is a sci-fi book about a Bolo – a futuristic tank-type machine with the capacity to think on its own, though it usually has a human crew of some kind. The blurb on the back of the book reads:
It was the last step in the life of an obsolete bolo. Loaned out to a Concordiat ally, left to guard the backdoor against the Deng while the rest of the Dinochrome fought, and died, against the Melkonians. Well, SOL-0045 managed to stop the Deng but still he remained, Surplus On Loan. As the once constitutionalist planet, now cut off from the Concordiat and the rest of civilization, slowly fell into the trap of dictatorship and confiscation in the face of decay.
It had been simpler fighting the Deng. Anything Deng was the enemy. But as old friends become rebels against the legal government, the government to which he is Surplus On Loan, SOL-0045 finds himself in the ultimate trap: caught in the sharp cleft between ethics and duty.
Then It Became Simple Again.
In the final mission that would crush the resistance and end for all time the brutal civil war, SOL finds himself in a moral dilemma, facing a little boy who will not let him pass. And SOL finds that, for once, “it is my duty” is not enough. He must struggle through the long night to find out, when mission and morals collide, whether, in fact, bolos have a soul.
And, if they do, whether they can be redeemed.
The story is much more detailed than the book blurb lets on. The story also covers a span of twenty odd years, so forgive me if some of the details I give away are confusing, or even out of order. If you read the book, these details will not be confusing for very long.
The Bolo at the heart of this story, SOL-0045 or “Sonny” (short for “Lonesome Son”), is a Surplus On Loan bolo to the human colony world Jefferson. Sonny’s commander is Major Simon Khrustinov. The two are both “loaned out” to Jefferson, where they fight off a Deng assault with the locals a few days after landing on the planet. While on Jefferson, Simon meets and falls in love with a woman named Kafari Camar. Kafari, born and raised on a ranch on Jefferson, is fiercely independent and determined to survive. She is a match for Simon if ever there was one.
She proves this best when she helps protect the president of Jefferson during the Deng invasion of her homeworld. Not long after this, she and Simon marry. Later, at the same time they are expecting a baby, Jefferson’s political climate shifts dramatically. The President dies of radiation poisoning he suffered during the Deng invasion and the new president is a known sympathizer with the political elite who want Jeffersonians disarmed, the planet’s military watered down, and the world returned to its “natural” state – the state it was before it was terra-formed.
After approximately ten years of political decay, Simon has to be taken off-world for extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation after an aircar “accident.” Kafari stays on Jefferson with their now thirteen year old daughter, Yalena. Brainwashed by the new school system so that she is utterly dependent on her parents and the government, Yalena is spiteful and sassy to both her mother and her father. She has behaved this way since kindergarten. With a new law that allows anyone thirteen and older to move out of their parents’ house and into government housing, as well as vote, Kafari cannot leave Jefferson without leaving Yalena behind. The girl is determined to stay on-world with her friends.
Without Simon to guide him, Sonny ends up being ordered around by the President. He is called upon to protect the President’s House when a huge protest against the government erupts in the capital city of Madison. Sonny, however, is so big and heavy that he cannot enter the city without damaging the buildings. He also cannot move around the protesters and bystanders the police have purposely packed into the streets to reach the President’s house.
The result is the opening of a Reign of Terror that leads to a planetwide civil war.
The Road to Damascus is a hard book to read, and I would not recommend it for children. It accurately describes what happens when power hungry people take control of the government after making most of the urban population dependent them for everything. Yalena’s early life proves it. Things get ugly on Jefferson very quickly. I repeat, it is not a book for children. Or for light reading.
But it is an important and educational read, so much so that I am recommending it to you, readers. I do not think I can say much more beyond that; read the novel yourselves, and I think you will be able to draw your own conclusions.
And do not worry too much about Sonny. He lives through the book. It has a fairly happy ending, all things considered.
Until next time,
The Mithril Guardian