You are here: .

Home > My Work > Artwork > Bolos!
 ^ up
 < previous
 > next
Bolo Art
My Work
   New Works
        Print Books
             Short Stories
        Audio Books
   Full Bibliography
About Me
   Cons & Events
Site Map


Keith Laumer was a well-known and respected science fiction writer who, during the 1960s, began writing short stories featuring sentient robotic tanks known as Bolos, huge and powerful combat machines that often seemed to understand such concepts as "honor" and "duty" better than some of their human commanders.

Laumer died a few years ago, and his work will be missed ... especially his stories and novels about Retief, the always-ready, always-brilliant galactic diplomat. The Bolo stories have enjoyed a kind of renaissance, however, as Baen Books began publishing a series of collections of new Bolo stories, written by various authors. My "Hold Until Relieved" appears in Bolos IV: Last Stand, and in The Best of the Bolos: Their Finest Hour. "Brothers" appears in another anthology, Bolos V: Old Guard.

In 1996, I was approached by Baen Books to begin writing the first novels set in the Bolo universe. The first of these, Bolo Brigade, appeared in May of 1997. The second in the series, Bolo Rising, came out in December of 1998, and the third, Bolo Strike, was released in hardcover and then paperback in 2001.

This page is a showcase for some of the Bolo scenes I created in Photoshop as a kind of brain-nudger. Data is drawn from the appendices found at the back of Bolos III: The Triumphant, from Baen Books, my primary source for Bolo technical specs and information when I'm writing about them.

Bolo Mark XX

This is the Bolo, Mark XX/B (Tremendous), introduced in 2796, the first truly self-directing Bolo. The psychotronic breakthrough gave the Mark XXs true self-awareness, though their intelligence, somewhat on the literal and bloodthirsty side, was limited strictly to battlefield applications. Human concerns about the problems posed by "rogue" Bolos resulted in complex and sometimes contradictory software that suppressed the Bolo's volition, preventing it from taking any action without direct orders from a human commander. Armament consisted of twin 30cm Hellbores in a side-by-side single turret mount, sixteen ion bolt infinite repeaters, and eight 30cm BL mortars. Massing 13,000 tons, it had a road speed of 90 kph but could sprint at 120 kph.

Bolo Mark XXIV

The Bolo, Mark XXIV (Cognitus), introduced in 2962, was the first genuinely autonomous Bolo. Where previous marks had allowed tactical autonomous direction, the Mark XXIV's improved personality center and id integration circuitry permitted truly independent, strategic self-direction.

The Mark XXIV mounted one 90cm "super" hellbore as main armament, eighteen ion-bolt infinite repeaters, six 30cm BL mortars, and a VLS missile launch system. It masses 14,000 tons and has a road speed of 80 kph, with sprints to 148 kpg.

The illo here shows a Mark XXIV cutting loose with its main weapon. Hellbores fire slivers of steel-jacketed cryo-H, a few grams of hydrogen held as a slush at near-absolute zero temperatures. Magnetically accelerated to relativistic speeds by superconducting coils within the weapon's barrel, the cryo-H is compacted and heated until it reaches fusion temperatures. The devastating effect of the hellbore is the natural outcome of shooting at a target with tiny pieces of burning star traveling at near-light velocities. Damage, measured at several megatons/second, is caused both by fusion effects and by the release of considerable kinetic energy at impact.

Bolo Mark XXIV

This is one of two Mark XXIV Series FRD Bolos assigned to the defense of Widesky, out on the Rim beyond the borders of the Concordiat. "Freddy," as he was known to his human counterparts, was instrumental in the defeat of the Malach Incursion in a desperate and wide-ranging battle, a moment of which is shown here.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of writing about Bolos is finding opponents serious enough to make a Bolo break into a figurative sweat. After all, if there's no threat to the book's hero, no anxiety as to whether or not he will survive, there's just not that much excitement to the story. In the first Bolo novel, Bolo Brigade, the threat comes from militant Darwinists known as Malach, a couple of which can be seen scampering out of the way in this illo.

In fact, part of the inspiration for the book came from my amused musings about the likely outcome in a contest between a Bolo and an army of BattleMechs -- a family of combat machines that I wrote about earlier in my checkered career. The Malach do their thing in armored contraptions that can fly or walk, as depicted here. One is not a particularly serious threat to a Bolo.

The problem is, Malach are evolved from pack hunters. If you find one, you're going to find lots....

Bolo Mark ?

At left is an illo that ultimately became the mood and setting piece for the early part of Bolo Rising, my second Bolo novel, which will be out later this year. There was something romantic -- and powerfully moving -- about the sight of that duralloy monster, squatting atop a hill beneath myriad stars and two moons.

Actually, Bolo Rising involves a Mark XXXIII Series HCT, "Hector" to his friends, and whatever the machine in this illo is, it's not a Mark XXXIII. Hector had three sets of tracks, not one, and three turrets, each mounting a 200cm hellbore. Still, this is the image that launched the opening imagery of the book.

In Bolo Rising, it turns out that Hector has been suborned by an alien machine intelligence and is standing guard over a camp of captured humans enslaved by hyperactive mobile PCs with delusions of grandeur. What happens after that ... well ... have you seen the movie Spartacus?

Bolo Mark XXXIII

At right is a Mark XXXIII done in Bryce2, with a little finishing-up input from Photoshop. This illo gives a good idea of just how big the beast really is. See the guy standing in front, like the famous protester facing down the tanks at Tiannamen Square? This sort of thing is not a good idea with Bolos, unless you're on friendly terms with them.

The Mark XXXIII is the highest mark for which we have reliable data, the largest, the fastest, the most heavily armed, and the smartest Bolo of all. Introduced in the mid-third millennium, at about the time of the so-called "Final War" and the onset of the Long Night, it masses 32,000 tons. Its main armament consists of three 200cm hellbores, mounted separately in three turrets. Secondary armament includes sixteen 30cm hellbore infinite repeaters in two lateral batteries, ten 40cm BL mortars, four 240cm howitzers, and a heavy VLS missile system. Road speed is approximately 110 kph; sprint speed is much higher, since internal contragravity generators can allow the machine to become airborne. In fact, the Mark XXXIII was designed to serve as its own landing boat for planetary assault. Where earlier Bolo marks were occasionally known as "continental siege units," the Mark XXXIII was, in fact, a planetary siege unit, capable of engaging enemy warships in near-space space.

In Bolo Rising, we don't see a planetary assault, but we do get to see Hector dueling with enemy battleships, fifty thousand kilometers out in space, pitting hellbores against high-velocity meteors that release kinetic energy equivalent to the destructive power of a tactical nuclear warhead.

And pity any humans caught in the open in the middle of such an exchange!...

In addition to the artwork, I've done two Bolo short stories and three Bolo novels.

All text and artwork copyright (c) William H. Keith
This page was last updated on 05/29/2011