o New Kashubia is a real shithole – it’s pretty much been stripped down to nothing but a ball of melted metal when its sun went supernova a long time ago. And now its home to Bosnian refugees (Earth is now a gated community and all other races and people have been shipped off). These folks now live in slow-starvation squalor in deep tunnels, while even deeper in the bowels of their planet automated factories produce top-line battle tanks. Essentially they are fighting/teaching machines, fully loaded with AI and VR, very destructive and able to house their human tanker for years (why the excess population wasn’t put into them in the first place, I couldn’t tell you).
So the Serbs and the Croats are at it again, fighting all over a planet. And it turns out that New Kashubia has been shipping tanks sans tankers and now their AIs are getting trashed. Now, suddenly, everyone is pissed and there is a rush to get warm bodies into their tanks. And this is where Mickolai Derdowski comes in. Convicted of a crime (sex through a hole in the wall with his beloved), he’s tossed into a tank and forced to learn to fight. And he’s got to learn quickly since he’ll be on the line soon enough.
Yeah, it was kinda Hammer’s-Slammerish, and that was fine. The battles were thought-provoking (the tanks damn near all-powerful) and the situations intense (and the resolutions clever). Also, there was the idea of what VR could really, really be like; in this virtual world, his tank can be anything for him; trainer, teacher, lover. It was interesting to discover the possibilities that only became popular with movies like The Matrix.
The book slowed down in the end when Mickolai was setting up his plots for crazy intrusion and piracy of an entire division of tanks. Nothing really ever went wrong. They’d just plot and plan and execute and everything worked fine (and if there is one thing they say about combat plans…).
But still, it was a good book, one I picked up in a used bookstore but you could probably find with a little bit of effort.