Book Review: 'Stone Dogs'
“Stone Dogs” is arguably the last official book in the Draka Domination series by S. M. Stirling, though there are stand-alone novels that arguably take place in that same universe or parallel universes. What are the highlights and downsides of this alternate-history book by Stirling?
Highlights of Stone Dogs by Stirling
This alternate history book harkens back to the old science fiction dreams of space stations filled with thousands of people, Moon bases, genetically engineered creations (including people) and the wonders of the future the 1920s through 1950s expected.
The characters in the books are surprisingly well developed, though it occasionally relies on tropes. The complex human relationships that exist behind serfs and masters, especially over the years, makes the human element more realistic than the harsh stereotypes in “12 Years a Slave” and “Roots”. If you have raised a child as a caregiver for years, how could you not be attached? If two people are lovers, don’t attachments arise, even in a society that sees serfs as best treated like a favored pet?
This alt history book focuses on a space race between the free nations (North America, South America, Australia, India for a time) and the Draka Domination. In this fictional universe, the Draka Domination took over the Ottoman Empire in World War 1 and Europe in World War 2. In that regard, this book has fewer battle scenes except for several in space, and much more politics and personal development. For history wonks, not seeing major historical battles played out with decades more advanced technology is a relief.
This book features citizen women in warfare, on the front lines. It is also one of the few books to honestly portray the horrors and aftermath of women in combat.
Observations Regarding the Stone Dogs by Stirling
The Draka Domination features a society built by the losers of several major wars, including the American Civil War. The South Africa colony in this fictional universe took in both slave owners from the Confederate States of America, the Caribbean and some other refugees from various events. It started with a plantation system, added an iron clad bureaucracy akin the British model of the 1800s and industrial society powered by serfs in the 1900s. Their society uses a Roman / classical model of slavery that allowed for enslavement of all races, not the black/white model that is too often mistaken as the only type of slavery in human history. However, unlike the Roman model of slavery, once a serf, always a serf. Romans had manumission, but for Draka, you’re a slave for life, and the only freedom is in death. Try to escape, and that’s a death sentence, too.
What you end up with in the book Stone Dogs is a plausible look for how slavery and space travel could co-exist. The frightening dimensions are how disposable people enable bio-warfare development, genetic engineering and behavioral modification.
This book lacks the parallel universes explanation and exploration of “Drakon” relies upon. There are also a number of short stories in the anthology “Drakas!” set in the Draka Domination universe.
The Draka Domination can be seen as a parallel to the Borg in Star Trek. Everyone must be assimilated, because unassimilated peoples are an existential threat. After all, free peoples act as a symbol of hope and freedom to Draka serfs, as well as a source of conflict with the Domination. You can also see the Draka Domination as a contrast to Islam, in which there will only be peace when all have submitted to the yoke of the Draka / Islam. (Note: Islam translates to “submission”, as in submission to God.)
Many science fiction books, including “Brave New World”, “Beggars in Spain” and “Dune”, touch on how eugenic and/or genetic engineering could lead to a master race, which undermines the concept of meritocracy by reinforcing the upper class status of those who could afford genetic engineering or were created to be the upper class. This is one of the few books where I’ve seen a dominant group deliberately utilize genetic engineering to reinforce its already high status, as well as cover the aftermath of such a social and biological change.
Drawbacks of the Stone Dogs Book
This is the only book I have ever read to feature a lesbian gang-rape scene.
For more liberal readers, the arguably bisexual citizens are only shown in lesbian relationships, though the citizen males receiving female concubines is clearly demonstrated.
The technological development timeline for the entire Domination series is so accelerated that it strains credulity.
XKCD featured an excellent comic showing how the quality of the work is inversely related to the number of made-up words and altered terms used in the book. Sterling uses terms like this regularly, such as compu-plague for computer virus, mole-hole for wormhole in another book in the series, life partner in place of wife and husband serfs. That only adds to the complexity of the read when you factor in the thick Southern drawl sprawled out graphically in the text, slowing down the reading.
While a good book doesn’t have an ending that feels like whiplash because it is so far out of line with the story, this book’s ending was telegraphed through far too many hints.
Is There a Sequel?
There is no official sequel to "The Stone Dogs". However, the anthology "Drakas!" contains several multi-verse short stories that can be read as sequels to the novel "The Stone Dogs".