#SciFiMonth Sci-5 Tuesday: Sentient Starships
To celebrate science fiction during the month of November, I’ve put together a series of posts I’ll be doing on Tuesdays to highlight the sci-fi tropes or themes that I find simply irresistible! I’ve also been fortunate to read some great books in the genre over the last few years, and to give them some extra attention, each week I will also be featuring five titles that I recently enjoyed or thought were pretty special.
Anyway, whether they are living ships or brains in a box, I love books about SENTIENT STARSHIPS! There are so many on my list, and so many more I still have to read, but these are the ones that have stood out for me recently.
Meet Bob Johansson, who has just sold off his software company and is looking to take his new fortune to a service offering their clients the option to cryogenically freeze themselves in the event of their deaths. You can probably guess where this is headed. Sure enough, while enjoying his new life of freedom and leisure at a convention in Las Vegas, Bob gets distracted while crossing the street and—BAM! Pain and blackness is the last thing he remembers before waking up more than a century later to discover that he is now an artificial intelligence created from a brain scan of his consciousness. The country has turned into a theocracy which has declared that replicants like Bob are without rights. He is also now the property of a government program developing a self-replicating interstellar von Neumann probe with the goal of exploring the galaxy. Bob will be uploaded into the probe and sent on journey into space to look for habitable planets. Unfortunately, the mission will be dangerous. Other nations have the same idea and are all in competition with each other. As Bob travels deeper into space, he also begins to realize the need for more processing power, leading him to clone himself multiple times in order to distribute all his responsibilities. And thus, we end up with a “legion” of Bobs, each one going about their own way and chronicling their own adventures in deep space. This is definitely sci-fi done in a way I’ve never really seen before! (Read the full review…)
Following a handful of different characters, the story is set in the aftermath of a bitter and violent war fought in a galaxy rife with political tensions. Disgusted with the part she played, the sentient warship Trouble Dog has decided on a new course for her life, joining the House of Reclamation, an organization that answers the calls of distressed starships, in the hopes of atoning for the atrocities she committed. Sal Konstanz, who once fought against Trouble Dog, now finds herself on the same side as the ship as her captain. Together with their crew of medics and rescue workers, they follow a signal from a downed vessel to a touristy but disputed area of space called the Gallery, a system whose planets have all been carved into gargantuan intricate shapes by an ancient alien race. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the system is another example of former enemies now working together as allies. Ashton Childe and Laura Petrushka, agents from opposing sides team up to locate a missing poet who was rumored to have been on the ship that went down in the Gallery. And indeed, the missing woman in question is Ona Sudak, whose relaxing pleasure cruise with her travel companion has turned into a nightmare after the attack on her ship leaves them marooned on a strange planet surrounded by all kinds of mysterious threats. (Read the full review…)
The story, which takes place in the distant future of 2142, follows a teenager named Zara Cole, whose debilitating headaches as a child caused a schism between her and her family. After a traumatic experience, she became estranged from her parents and refused to relocate to Mars with her mother and sister, preferring to remain by herself on the mean streets of New Detroit. Although the world has seen a number of technological advancements since the arrival of the Leviathan, a race of sentient space ships that bestowed their vast knowledge on humanity, Zara has access to very few comforts, reduced to thieving in order to stay alive. But one day, she steals from the wrong person, landing her in the crosshairs of a dangerous man. Having already survived one attempt on her life, Zara decides to get herself booked into a detention center, thinking she’ll be safe behind jail walls. What she did not expect, however, were the Leviathan. Each year, the aliens select a hundred humans, called Honors, to join them in space in a kind of “exchange program” meant to promote relations between the two species. Never once have they called for someone like Zara, a petty thief from one of the lowest echelons of society, so it was a surprise to everyone when the Leviathan decided to name her an Honor. Still, when the alternative is to stay on Earth where her vengeful enemy can get to her anytime, the opportunity to get off planet is starting to look like her best chance for survival. (Read the full review…)
Toxic is a young adult space adventure set aboard Cyclo, a massive state-of-the-art liveship that’s the first of its kind. But of course, being an actual biological construct, Cyclo isn’t your typical sentient ship. Like anything alive, it also experiences senescence, and now it is slowly but surely dying. In order to study the event, data collectors have been dispatched on a one-way trip to Cyclo to document the ship’s final days. Made up entirely of criminals, this group was never intended to make it back alive. Among them is Fennec, who has signed on for the mission as a way to repay his debt to society. He’s determined to fulfill his contract so that his sister will be taken care of when he’s gone, because when the ship dies, he and his team will soon follow. However, instead of finding Cyclo completely evacuated, Fennec and his fellow mercenaries discover a lone girl on the ship, who apparently has been left behind. For seventeen years, Hana has been kept isolated and hidden because her very existence would have been a violation of the strict population laws. Created illegally by her mother and cared for by Cyclo, she is devastated when Fennec and his team arrive, informing her of Cyclo’s impending demise and the reason for their mission. Hana doesn’t understand why she has been abandoned and left to die, but for the first time in her life, she has gotten a taste of freedom and knows she will do anything for a chance to live. (Read the full review…)
The book follows Breq, a soldier who is more (and, I suppose, also less) than she seems. An “Ancillary”, Breq was formerly one of many corpse soldiers all linked up with an artificial intelligence as part of a massive starship called the Justice of Toren. So in a sense, she is the Justice of Toren. Breq as well as all the other corpse soldier “segments” who were treated as appendages connected to the Justice of Toren were collectively considered part of the ship. The narration also reflects this; in chapters where Breq is linked up to the rest of the Justice of Toren, we see through the eyes of multiple Ancillaries, which in essence are all one entity. Because the ship’s Ancillaries are everywhere, the protagonist is aware of things happening around all her different segments who are in different places at the same time. After an act of treachery, Breq was the only one who made it out of the subsequent disaster, making her the last surviving remnant of the Justice of Toren, left alone and isolated in a human body. Now she sets herself on a path of vengeance to track down and kill Anaander Mianaai, the multi-bodied and near-immortal Lord of the Radch who was responsible. (Read the full review…)