Roboteer by Alex Lamb (book review).

July 7, 2015 | By | Reply More

The last year or so seems to have been a good one for new hard-SF authors. First we had Andy Weir’s remarkable ‘The Martian’ and now along comes Alex Lamb’s ‘Roboteer’. The latter has been hailed as perfect for fans of Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds and I have to concur. Certainly the size is right for Hamilton – over 440 pages! – yet it does not seem too long and it is, I suppose, ‘space opera’. But that label does not do it justice. Lamb has a background in science, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) and it shows. A word first about the cover as there is no credit anywhere for the cover art, which is a pity as it is obviously done by an artist who has taken the trouble to read at least part of the book. Let’s hope that this is corrected in the final version which reaches the bookshops.

Roboteer

The roboteer of the title is Will Kuno-Manet. For some reason not explained, nearly all the names of people and planets, etc seem to be double-barrelled. A roboteer can insinuate himself into the computer controls and link with the Self-Aware Programs (SAPs) of a spaceship so that it almost becomes his body, controlled purely by his mind. Thanks to the development of anti-matter, the human race has spread to the stars but, in doing so, it has split. The billions left on Earth, the Earthers, live in squalor and are ruled by religious fanatics, headed by The Prophet, otherwise known as Pyotr Sanchez. Those who live in space, the Galateans, have adapted themselves using genetic modifications (heresy to the Earthers) and technology, including nano-machines. Nonetheless, Earth has now driven outwards, trying to reclaim lost colonies such as those of the Pioneers, before the war a colony of space traders. Galatea is the only world to survive and thrive.

At the start of the novel, Will, previously with the spaceship Phoenix, has been drafted aboard the Galatean starship Ariel under Captain Ira Baron-Lecke, replacing Doug, its former roboteer. He died in a fierce battle in which it becomes clear that the Earthers have a devastating new weapon, later known as the suntap. Only one outworlder ship can be spared to investigate this new threat, the Ariel. Other than Ira, its crew consists of Hugo, Dr Hugo Bessler-Vartian from Fleet Research, a rather unstable scientist who is constantly at odds with the rest; John, a cryptographer; Rachel, an engineer with whom Will forms a mildly romantic relationship and Amy, who runs navigation and medicine.

There is no doubt that Will is the central character in all this and, to some extent, the other characters on the Ariel are there to support and aid him and his role in the plot. There is some back story, both of Will and the worlds. His Galatean home planet is poor, has a low population and is subject to extreme weather conditions. Earth itself, slowly recovering from endless conflicts, is subjugated by a militant religion, the High Church, but it has discovered a strange artefact known as the Relic, whose purpose it is the Ariel’s job to try to unravel. The religion seems to have some of the characteristics of extreme Islamic culture. For instance, a recent decree by the Prophet prohibits female children from receiving an education.

The other strand of the story is headed by General Gustav Ulanu who, despite his military title, is an Earther scientist. He is responsible to the Prophet, who in turn is at least nominally under Ramon the First, King of the Nation of Man. Gustav is not pleased to be allotted an ‘assistant’, Disciple Rodriguez, in other words a spy. Gustav’s job is to research the Earth’s secret weapons project but also, ultimately, to keep the Galateans from getting anywhere near the Relic, considered to be either the work of an alien civilisation or a message from God, depending upon one’s beliefs. I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say that in this he fails spectacularly, thanks mainly to Will and the amazing abilities he proves to have as the story develops. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that whether Will succeeds or fails in the highly daunting task he is set could affect the entire future of humanity of whatever faction.

The story is well-paced and draws the reader on. Each series of actions and sometimes crises leads, just as all seems to be going well, to yet another crisis and more extreme action and while most of the characters do not have a chance to become well developed, we do believe in the character of Will and, to some extent, of Gustav. Will’s thoughts and feelings are communicated to the reader in a way that makes us sympathetic towards him as a person. Sometimes he feels naïve, awkward and out of place, at others almost omnipotent, but his actions are always believable within the circumstances in which they occur.

Although Lamb draws everything together in a satisfying way, there is clearly room for much more to be told about this universe and its characters. I don’t know whether a sequel is planned or under way, but I hope so as I look forward to travelling there again!

David A. Hardy

June 2015

(pub: Gollancz/Orion Books. 443 page paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-473-2060-8)

check out websites: www.gollancz.co.uk and www.orionbooks.co.uk

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Category: Books, Scifi

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About the Author ()

David A. Hardy, FBIS, FIAAA is the longest-established living space artist in the West, being first published in 1952. From working almost exclusively in water colours and gouache he has gone on to embrace acrylics, oils, pastels and, since 1991, digital art on a Mac. For more art, including prints of this and other works, visit http://www.astroart.org, where you can find many links, tutorials, books and prints and originals for sale. Dave is Vice President of the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists (ASFA) and European VP of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA), and has an asteroid named after him! His SF novel 'Aurora' is now available in a revised and updated edition on Amazon etc. See a review of this and an interview with Pauline Morgan (November 2012) here: http://sfcrowsnest.org.uk/?s=hardy

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