Review: Single Combat, Dean Ing, 1983.
The world has settled down in the second book of Ing’s Ted Quantrill trilogy. The Fourth World War ended about five years ago. Nations are picking up the pieces. Technology has advanced. There are even plans for New Israel – now on leased land in Turkey – to build L-5 colonies.
Ted Quantrill is no longer a teenager trying to survive and find a place in a post-holocaust world. He’s found his place. It’s killing people for the government.
The secret group of assassins, called T Section, he works for is at the center of the book. It hides behind the cover of Streamlined America’s Search and Rescue organization which goes out and helps people in the still devastated areas of the country. From Systemic Shock, there’s Sabado, the unarmed combat instructor who recruited Quantrill out of the Army; Seth Howell, political instructor; Marty Cross, an expert at covert pursuit; and, Mason Reardon, a master at surveillance. Most importantly, there is Marbrye Sanger, the first trainee Quantrill met, and the two have a relationship. It’s sexual with much unsaid because things can’t be carried further when your every conversation is monitored, and, if your lover goes rogue, they’ll end up dead – maybe at your hand. Any intimate discussion or thoughts of rebellion has to be in notes and sign language.
But, at a T Section briefing, Quantrill learns that resistance to President Young’s Streamlined America has gone beyond guerilla actions into a more organized phase. There are even rumors some T Section members have gone rogue. Perhaps, he thinks, the regime can be changed after all.
And, when it’s discovered Quantrill has faked the assassination of a labor organizer, the elite team of Cross, Howell, and Sanger set out to bring Quantrill in for questioning and execution.
That leads to one of two very good extended pieces of combat and chase in the novel. (An excerpt from it in Survive magazine was my first exposure to Ing.)
This being Ing, though, there’s a lot of other stuff going on.
Boren Mills, the treacherous naval officer of the first book, is now one of the most important men in Streamlined America, head of the Federal Broadcasting Network and chairman of the entertainment and industrial conglomerate IEE. Mills skills at media manipulation and his claim that he has a new process for extracting raw materials from seawater have won him a place at the highest councils of government. But he’s really hiding a bit of very high tech he retrieved from a Chinese mini-sub during the war (and killed to keep secret): a matter synthesizer. That part of the plot eventually involves Sandy Grange and her giant boar protector Baal by way of Eve Simpson in a truly bizarre bit of plotting.
No longer a very attractive teenager but a bloated woman resorting to drugging men for her sexual appetites, Simpson still is cunning and an expert in media manipulation and knows the secrets of her one-time lover Mills. That includes the covert lab where Mills has blackmailed scientists trying to copy and scale up his Chinese tech.
And we get a lot on the resistance forming around Texas Governor Street with its own media being beamed into Streamlined America from the Wild Country on the Atlan Mexico border.
Ing the engineer is on display here with several spec sheets and drawings of various future tech: exotic aircraft, a hovercycle, and the chiller – the special sidearm of the T Section.
And Ing also give us, in a few asides, perceptive glimpses at how power politics works and how bureaucracies can sabotage their putative leaders.
Additional Thoughts (with Spoilers)
This book is the story of Quantrill’s emotional development. His kindness and caring for others was there in Systemic Shock, but, after joining T Section, he had little opportunity or means – that aren’t suicidal – to practice them.
It is only after Marybe’s death in trying to save him and his escape from T-Section and joining Street’s group that it can be expressed again. His anguish at losing two women close to him is poignantly expressed in the novel’s second great set piece when T Section sends another team out after him, this time to kill him. Rather than killing fellow assassin Ethridge – who also loved Marybe and is suicidal with despair, Quantrill spares his life and recruits him into the resistance.
Quantrill may get a chance at happiness when he discovers Sandy Grange is alive after thinking Baal killed her. But things are complicated when it’s revealed that Lufo, an agent of Street’s we’ve seen throughout the book, has eyes on her. And Lufo, it turns out, is none other than the man who recruited Quantrill into T-Section, Sabado. He managed, by luck, successfully leaving T Section. This sets up a conflict for the last book in the trilogy as does Sandy’s secret possession of the matter synthesizer Baal took off Eve Simpson’s body.
Like his “Silent Thunder“, this is another story where Ing has Freemasons involved in political resistance.
The sabotage of Young’s efforts against the resistance is partly aided by the intelligence community who have their own political biases as well as the typical bureaucratic tendency to not promptly tend to things.
The tech here is a strange mixture of stuff still unrealized — like L-5 colonies and holovision and hovercycles and matter synthesizers – and things we do have like computer animation techniques FBN uses in faking news. (Real news organizations aren’t that ambitious. They prefer out of context video, careful edits, and video provided by far from dis-interested parties.)
In the Science Fiction Encyclopedia entry on Ing, John Clute suggests Ing’s trilogy is an homage to Robert A. Heinlein’s Sixth Column. I’ve actually read Sixth Column, but I remember so little of it and made no notes, I’ll leave that for others to comment on.