In a near-future science fiction novel, human intelligence evolves into a hivemind that makes people the violent cells of a collective being.
New Model Army, a 2010 novel by the English writer Adam Roberts, concerns itself with many things: the intimacy shared by soldiers at war, the motivating powers of memory and love, the rival merits of hierarchical and anarchic social structures, the legitimacy of the polity known as Great Britain, the question of European identity. Also giants. (Roberts has a history of interest in giants -- they feature prominently in his imaginative and highly excremental novel Swiftly -- and, more generally, in the scale of being: how very small, very large, and in-between-sized beings experience the world differently. This is also a theme in his recent digital-only story "Anticopernicus".) But New Model Army is perhaps above all an immensely stimulating inquiry into what we light-heartedly call the "hive mind." And it raises a set of discomfiting questions: Are our electronic technologies on the verge of enabling truly collective human intelligence? And if that happens, will we like the results?
The title New Model Army derives from the English Civil War in the mid-seventeenth century, when Oliver Cromwell led armies raised by Parliament against supporters of King Charles. The New Model Army that arose at that time was "new" especially in that its soldiers were full-time professionals, ready to be deployed anywhere they were needed, even in Scotland or Ireland, whereas previous English armies had been little more than local militias. These soldiers were also deeply devoted to fairly extreme forms of Protestantism and despised the established Church of England.