Posted by: Matt Y | 07/09/2015

Review for Hugo nominated work Big Boys Don’t Cry

Big Boys Don’t Cry on the surface is one of the more interesting tales in the slated works.  In essence it is both the literal and figurative deconstruction of an archetypical soldier.  This soldier just happens to be a war tank AI called Magnolia, or Maggie for short.

The story begins with the AI tank as it has some moments of self pity for having an incompetent commander, along with sadness for how her human soldiers used to ride inside of her but were replaced by drones, and how no one cares for Ratha class tanks anymore.  It’s a weird way of starting a MilSF story but the novelty of it made me interested.

Throughout the story there were a lot of immersion breaking moments for me.  First would be the random interjections into the story by the University of Woomalloo.  The name makes me wonder if there is an inside joke the author is referencing.  Sometimes these parts contribute to the story being told and other times these are just random bits of information that seemed like the author was making dumb political jabs at the expense of story momentum.

For some never explained reason the tank AIs are programmed to designate their gender.  In that battle one tank is pointed out for not having done so, and is ostracized by the other tanks because it is genderless.  I don’t even get why the tank AIs choose any gender or have that in their programming, much less why they have personalities.  I mean you might be able to write a fun story about a gun that’s programmed with an AI that decides it is now a pacifist, but there are no good reasons in this story as to why a battle tank is given a personality.  As far as gender goes that a tank chose not decide gender makes that the smartest tank AI in the book because it realizes it’s a goddamn tank.

Big Boys Don’t Cry instead has the genderless tank be socially shunned by other tanks because they think this is weird (I mean seriously a tank is shunned by other tanks because it decides not to assign itself a gender!) and in the first battle of the book that tank runs off like a coward.  Considering how that battle turned out that tank might be the only rational character in the book.

To pile on top of that Maggie gets hurt, like in pain hurt, and I couldn’t get why she was programmed to feel pain.  Later as she’s being scrapped but still conscious she feels all of it, and then the main character also questions why they allow her to feel pain.  It’s never addressed in the story.  Don’t know how the editor missed that the author pointed out a plot hole that the whole story revolves around.

Tanks can also earn medals which means that they’re treated as individual soldiers who are honored for service instead of property.  However they’re scrapped like property and the medals are stripped off without a second thought.  Not sure why they even award or have a ceremony to award tanks medals if they are shown to be meaningless.  To appease the ego of the tanks?  It’s a poorly explained plot device used to have Maggie have context for her flashbacks.
Then there’s the really weird part at the end where that shows how these AI brains are constructed in such a way that they are programmed with a completely innocent personality that requires the military to brain wash out of them by literally giving the AI brain orgasms as a reward response to killing and pain to trim away responses they don’t care for.  Again I don’t get why they are programmed with personalities in the first place, and now I don’t understand why the AI aren’t just programmed with the preferred responses in the beginning?  All I can tell is that the military in this story are a bunch of moronic assholes who like to create pointless things, give them pain, put them in danger, and then pull them apart when no longer needed.  Maybe that’s the point.

This is such a goofy book.

Maggie is the only developed character in the story, but you know what compared to the other slated work she’s a character who is easy to empathize with, her identity is the major conflict in the story, and most of the book is her dawning realization about how bad she has been used.

The pacing is all over the place, this tale stop needs a sticker that says Careful This Plot Makes Sudden Stops.  Aside from the occasional swerve away from the action to go into details about weapons that are given a lot of page space yet are functionally just story props, the story halts forward progress to tell us about other events in the universe that never seem relevant.  At first these university papers talk about the tanks, then it goes into rambles about bleeding hearts that fell for a call to peace by hostile aliens that the tanks aren’t really involved.  Much of the battle took place in space and even the razing of towns was done by the ships.  There’s a part about burkas that’s so transparent it reads like poorly done satire.

The end goes for the cheap satisfaction of revenge, which works with how it was built up though her actions don’t really get back at anyone significant and she never considered that those she is acting against might be in a similar position she was just in, brainwashed into doing their duty and poorly treated.  While satisfying in that she went down fighting it also rings hollow on who and how she enacts revenge against.

Personally I thought the story would’ve could’ve delivered a good gut punch reaction if she knew she could not do anything at all about her fate.  Or if it ended with scraps of her being shown to go to the construction of a fresh new tank who wasn’t aware of where her parts came from or the indoctrination and harsh life ahead of it.

While I am highly critical of the story I did enjoy it more than many of the other works.  The core idea of the literal and metaphorical deconstruction of a soldier is one I like a lot, and while I think it kind of went to waste in this story it was like watching a Uwe Boll movie or the 4th Twilight book in that it is so bad that it’s entertaining to see what else it has up its sleeve.  As someone who watches a lot of low rent horror movies I don’t often come across so-bad-it’s-enjoyable books.

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