Degrees of Freedom by Simon Morden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Degrees of Freedom is the winner of the 2012 Philip K. Dick award and it’s very well deserved, I think. It’s the third and final book in the Samuil Petrovitch trilogy. I loved it and I hated to see it end.
Samuil Petrovitch is a nerd/mathematician/physicist living in London’s Metrozone, now called the Freezone. He has twice saved the city from disaster (in the previous books). (This is a future dystopia where Japan has sunk into the sea and America is full of “Reconstructionists,” crazed religious nuts out to destroy the world, not unlike today’s America.) He has handed control of the Freezone over to Sonja Oshicara, but he still plays a significant role in its running. The people there are busy trying to rebuild their city.
Sam and his oft-separated wife, Maddie, a former nun who is Amazonian in size and carries a big gun, hear there is an Armageddonist with a nuke in a park and they rush to the park. They find the large container housing the bomb and Petrovitch gets in to discover a mummified corpse holding what appears to be a nuke. He inspects it and thinks he can disengage it, but needs some tools, so he sends Maddie to get them. Next thing you know, some thugs show up, break his arm badly while beating him up, and take off with the bomb. He’s pissed. And he wakes up in a hospital with his arm in metal rings. Valentina, Tabletop, and Lucy are there, his crew, and they help him “escape” from the hospital, even though he’s doing horribly, because he wants to find the bomb before it’s used and he wants to stop these men.
He sees a video meant, apparently, just for him of masked men claiming they want the New Machine Jihad back, or they’ll blow the bomb. The New Machine Jihad was an AI-based monster that destroyed half the city in an earlier book that Sam thought he had killed. He knows of a group of NMJ worshipers, so he and the gang head off there, hoping to find the bomb. Problem. Sonja has declared him a criminal and claims he has run off with the bomb. So her troops are looking for him.
They get to the place where the worshipers are, and there’s no sign of a bomb. However, things seem off, and before they know it, men appear and start shooting! It’s the CIA, who have been trying to kill Petrovitch and Michael, the super quantum computer that’s possibly alive and that only Sam knows where it is. They want Michael destroyed. Petrovitch and the ladies get in a shoot out and escape, only to see a suspicious van leaving, possibly the people with the bomb, so they follow it. They overtake the van just as Sonja’s troops arrive. It’s a standoff. They let Sam and Valentina tear apart the bomb, carefully, though and it’s a fake — it’s not a nuke. Someone set them up.
They then decide to rescue Michael, which they do with a lot of effort. However, they need to get him to safety, so they use Al Jazeera’s satellite to upload him to other computers. He’s now active and helping Sam run things.
More stuff happens. Lots of action. Petrovitch and the girls are trying their best to both save the day and escape from harm. Finally, Sam announces that Sonja has screwed up things too badly and he’s firing her — she’s no longer in charge. I thought this was pretty naive on his part and it turned out I was right, because shortly after this announcement, some workers in the same park encountered some of Sonja’s troops and were fired on and killed. Sam and the women rushed to the park and killed the bad guys. Meanwhile, he’s trying to figure out a way to talk to Sonja and get her to stop. He finally decides to just go up to her office at the top of a high rise and talk to her, which seems unbelievably stupid. Until you realize his logic. He tells Maddie, who is pleading with him not to do this, that Sonja has never harmed him, except for the broken arm, and he thinks that was just a mistake. She’s had plenty of chances and each time, his life has been spared. He thinks if he just walks through her lines of troops guarding her building and goes up to her office, he’ll be safe. Because she’s in love with him. Has been for a long time. So he does it. He calls her and tells her he’s coming.
He goes to Sonja’s office. They talk. She tells him everything she’s done, she’s done for him. He says horseshit. She claims that the CIA came to her months ago, demanding his head, and this was the only way she could think of to keep him “occupied” and out of their clutches. And now he’s ruined everything. He tells her she was wrong. He tells her he’s going to go out there and correct everything she’s ruined. As he leaves, she pulls a gun out, puts it in her mouth and pulls the trigger.
He’s heard the CIA have a nuke with them. They’re going to blow up the Freezone and kill Samuil Petrovitch and Michael and everyone else. He’s got to stop them. He and Madddie go down into the underground tunnel leading to where Michael had been stored and catch up to the CIA operatives. Maddie kills one. They had already captured one previously. There were five to start with. Petrovitch releases an odd type of bomb he and Lucy have cooked up which doesn’t explode — it turns into a mini-black hole and sucks everything around it into it. They roll it down the tunnel and it gets the third agent. The final two are in Michael’s vault. Maddie climbs down and shuts the vault door, locking them in, but they know time is critical, because that bomb is going to go off and they have to warn everybody to get the hell away from there.
As Sam and Maddie are dragged out of a manhole, they tell everyone about the bomb and tell everyone to take off. Sam can barely move, he’s so badly injured. Maddie drags him. Fortunately, Sam had thrown his last little black hole bomb into the shaft above the vault, destroying the tower above it and collapsing it. Minutes later, the bomb explodes, knocking everyone to the ground and blowing houses, bridges, and other buildings to smithereens. However, the collapsed tower seems to have helped, because there’s no mushroom cloud. There is radiation, however and everyone heads for a radiation Red Cross site, where they are cleaned up. Sam loses an eye. He is probably going to lose his arm too. And he’s pissed. At America. As is everyone else. And he knows how to get back at them.
A phone in the White House rings. Someone picks up. Someone claiming to be Samuil Petrovitch speaks and says he wants to speak to the president. He gets an admiral. The admiral says they don’t talk to terrorists and is about to hang up when Petrovitch tells him he’s about to witness the destruction of his country. The admiral pauses, then hangs up. Sam rings the Situation Room and gets someone there. He demands to talk to the president. He won’t talk to Sam. Sam tells them Michael has inserted an indestructible virus in every American networked computer so that when they are powered down, they’ll be wiped permanently and the American economy will collapse. The Americans then notice that missiles have been launched from Russia, China, the European Union and elsewhere, hundreds of nukes, all aimed at America. They begin to panic. Petrovitch tells them they’re getting what they deserve. The president calls for his own nuke codes, while cities on the coasts start to disappear from the screen. Sam then asks what if this is not real? What if? Should you launch? The president starts reading the code. Someone stops him with two code words left and Petrovitch says to utter the last two, he has almost captured the whole string. The president fires two of his cabinet members, more cities disappear, but interestingly, no missiles are aimed at Washington. He reads the last two code words. Sam and Michael get them. One of the president’s men calls his brother in Colorado, which has just been hit. His brother answers and he’s asked if there have been any nukes exploding in his state. He laughs and says no. It was all a scam. Sam has scammed them and now has their nuke codes. He says he is going to post them to electronic bulletin board walls. He tells them he’s captured the entire conversation electronically and once the American people hear and see it, the president will be toast. He hangs up smiling.
There are a few wrap up things that happen, but that’s the gist of it. Sorry for the spoilers. If you like action packed, very violent sci fi that’s borderline cyberpunk, then this is definitely the book and series for you. I’m really going to miss Samuil Petrovitch. He was far from perfect. He was even deeply flawed. But he felt real, somehow. You lived his experiences and grew with him as he grew. It was a great ride. Definitely recommended.