I have always wanted to use the phrase ‘it’s got everything but the kitchen sink’ in a SF book and ‘Altered Starscape’ gives me that opportunity. Mobile O’Neill colony’s, AIs, Cyborgs, modified humans, aliens, Alderson disks, Dyson swarms, you name it and its most likely to be in ‘Altered Starscape’. I don’t mean this in a bad way as Ian Douglas has built a future universe that pulls together a lot of ideas with a result that just works. Let’s have a quick synapse of the plot before discussing these ideas further.
In the year 2162, the spaceship Ad Astra, towing two mobile O’Neill colonies, sets off to the capital of the Coadunation civilisation located at the heart of the Milky Way. Members of the galactic Coadunation civilisation contacted humans 36 years earlier. After the initial introductions, humanity has been invited to send a diplomatic exchange which is where this story starts. When configured with the O’Neill colonies, the combined ship is known as the Tellus Ad Astra.
I should mention that not every human was in favour of an alliance with the Coadunation. The aliens are fighting a war with an entity called The Denial and want the humans help. Why they should want the help of a primitive race that has only just got off their home planet is not known but makes a few senior people suspicious. The captain of the Ad Astra, Lord Commander Grayson St. Clair was one of those suspicious people. Some people consider his posting to the Ad Astra to be a punishment for his outspoken views regarding the proposed alliance.
As Lord Commander St. Clair has command of the Ad Astra and the military complement of the crew. The total compliment of Tellus Ad Astra is over a million with the military being a very small proportion. The majority are scientists, diplomats, engineers and other civilian support staff required to staff a diplomatic outpost. As it should not be a long voyage, St. Clair is prepared to tolerate his civilian counterpart Imperial Lord Director Günter Adler.
Technically, Adler is in overall charge of the mission as St. Clair’s role is limited to delivering the O’Neill colonies which should be a fairly short mission. Unfortunately, things don’t go to plan and the jump to the galaxy’s centre causes the Tellus Ad Astra to fall into a black hole. Normally this would result in the destruction of the ship and everyone on it but for reasons which aren’t clear the ship survives and is catapulted 4 billion years into the future. The good news is that everyone survived and they make contact with an apparently friendly alien race. The bad news is that the Andromeda Dark is coming.
That’s as far as I can go with the plot without introducing spoilers. What I can talk about is the human civilisation which is quite different to what we currently have. The political structure is not democratic but subtly different to totalitarian. There’s also the legal position of robots which currently have to be ‘owned’. This is a factor in St. Clair’s life as he has an android companion after his previous girlfriend left him. There are limits on the capabilities and responsibilities of the AIs that inhabit the ship. Although most people are clothed, social nudity is an accepted norm which is another difference to today’s society.
While most humans have some form of modification to allow them to interface to the ship’s communications networks, some humans have taken these modifications to extreme measures. There are also genetically altered humans whose changed physical form allows them to undertake duties which the stock human body simply could not cope with.
‘Altered Starscape’ is packed full of ideas you may be familiar with but they have novel twists. This makes for an enjoyable and interesting read. There’s quite a bit of military action to which I thought was well done. If I was to criticise then I’d say that other than Grayson St. Clair, the other characters aren’t developed enough. We don’t really get enough information on his direct reports or the main civilians. St. Clair’s android companion Lisa (full name Lisa 776 AI Zeta-3sw) is an interesting character in her own right. Perhaps we will learn more of Lisa in future novels as this is only book one.
If you deconstruct the story then you could say it’s not all that original. A human colony ship gets transported to an isolated spot or time in this story and they must cope and survive. There’s infighting amongst the humans, friendly aliens and an extremely powerful nemesis from another galaxy. The big but here is that I really enjoyed it. Douglas has extrapolated our culture rather than just taking the crew of a 21st century ship and sticking them on a spacecraft.
The book has an intriguing ending and there’s a very short epilogue to give you a teaser of what lies within book 2. Having been hooked with ‘Altered Starscape’, I’m going to get the second volume as soon as I can.
(pub: Harper Voyager, 2016. 373 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US) £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-06237-919-1
check out website: www.harpercollins.com/9780062379191/altered-starscape