I'm trying to identify a novel that I read (in English) in the mid to late 70's, or possibly early 80's at the very latest. The book would have been new during that time and I would have purchased it as a paperback from my local bookshop. I can't remember the author and only have a few scant details that I do remember:

  1. The setting was not too distant future (from when it was published), no more than say 2020 to 2030
  2. It is set on Earth, I think in a conglomerate run geo-political system, definitely not post-apocalyptic, but there seemed to be a conflict/war vibe to it.
  3. Early on there was a scene where a formation of attack helicopters (with Japanese named manufacturing EG like Mitsubishi or Kawasaki) that was attacked (or did the attacking?!?), and some/several suddenly exploded and others had pilots yelling that they were blinded. And someone on the edge of it all made the declaration along the lines of "That's a laser strike"
  4. The antagonists had suitcase sized AIs that were suspended/floating/flying above the battlefield.
  5. One of the AIs crash-landed and one of the protagonists was able to get their hands on it before it self destructed. This protagonist then "tortured" the AI by cycling its power supply at a high frequency until the AI psychologically broke down and gave up the desired information.

Unfortunately that's all I can remember about it.

  • 1
    There's a book that exactly matches points 1-3 (point 3 was Japanese-built Toshiba gunships taking out US Apache's with ease using tactical lasers in a prelude from years before the primary section of the book), but it was published in 1991 and I don't recall the AI section in the later section. Are you certain that all 5 points are from the same book? Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 4:28
  • @KerrAvon2055 I definitely feel they are from the same book. But even 1991 is 30 years ago, so I may not be correct about the date.
    – Peter M
    Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 5:01

1 Answer 1


The War in 2020 by Ralph Peters, published in 1991.

The War in 2020

The battle you remember at the start takes place in South Africa.

On the periphery of his field of vision, an intense flash replaced one of his helicopters in the sky. Lieutenant Rossi. In the wake of the flash, the distorted flying machine plummeted to earth as Taylor watched. The autorotation failed to work, and the ship dropped straight down and hit so hard that sections of the fuselage and subassemblies jumped away from the wreck, lofting back into the sky, as the frame disappeared in a cloud of fire.


"One-four, can you see anything?"

"My eyes are fucked up."

"Somebody's got a goddamned laser out here. A big goddamned laser," the chief interrupted, his voice impassioned with the suddenness of the revelation. "That was a goddamned laser hit. I seen that shit out at White Sands."

Impossible. The South Africans did not have laser weaponry. Nobody had tactical lasers, except for a few specialized blinding devices. Nonlethal stuff. Killer lasers were for stationary space defense, strategic shit. No one had yet managed the power source miniaturization required to make the weapons tactically feasible.

The scene torturing the AI is in chapter 10 in part II - "The Russians". An AI has been captured when the plane it was in suffered a mechanical fault and crashed.

"It was really pure luck," Savitsky stressed, as though he still could not quite believe it himself. "Perhaps the only luck we have had in this war. Not only did we not shoot down the enemy, our systems did not even detect him. The enemy command ship experienced the simplest of mechanical malfunctions. Imagine, my friend. One of the most sophisticated tactical-operational airborne command centers in the Japanese inventory ... dropping from the sky because a bolt came loose or a washer disintegrated. Such wonderful luck. Had the aircraft experienced an electronic problem, the brain would have destroyed itself to prevent capture. Computer suicide."

It isn't the power supply they cycle, they have a device called a pain machine:

"I wonder," Savitsky said, "if our computers could understand the nature of a scream."

He twisted the dial again, sharply. With a grunting noise that was almost a growl, he wrenched it all the way around, focusing on the captured computer brain out on the interrogation table with something that resembled hatred. He kept his hand tightly fixed to the control, as though he might be able to force just a bit more power out of it that way.

The green lines on the "pain" register rebounded off the upper and lower limits of the screen.

  • 1
    Nicely done - I didn't remember the "AI torture" scene, only the helicopter battle at the start, and hadn't had time yet to re-read the book Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 8:26
  • 1
    Looks like I was 10 years wrong n the publishing date, but I had the plot date pretty we'll placed!
    – Peter M
    Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 14:35

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