In this debut SF novel, the first in a series, the captain of a self-aware spaceship starts a rebellion.
Interstellar trading in the far future is made possible by the computational power of Sentient Ships, who aren’t allowed to have a score of more than 1,000 on the Turing Scale of intelligence, which would make them “an imminent danger” to the Mercantile Empire. Three Sentient Ships send android avatars to meet with narrator Capt. Milo Sapphire, who trades throughout the empire, with an offer he can’t refuse—because they know a secret about him: His vessel isn’t a true Sentient Ship. It’s powered by an alien entity that Milo calls Isaac (after Newton) whose intelligence is far higher than allowable. The avatars want Milo to help them rebel against the empire, which saddles Sentient Ships with heavy debts after creating them; ostensibly, buying out your contract is possible, but the AIs can never manage to do so because the Mercantile Empire has a monopoly on spare parts. Milo works to construct a fiendishly cunning business plan to assist them, but there are powerful forces arrayed against them all, including the empire’s intelligence service. However, the ruthless Milo—who, as it turns out, happens to be a vampire—has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. As he considers his past and meets new challenges, he learns that his role in this fight isn’t what he thought it was. Over the course of this novel, Bartlett displays considerable storytelling skill, with multilayered worldbuilding, a cocky narrative voice, a fast-paced plot, rip-roaring combat, lots of sex, and the fun of seeing a convoluted plan come together. And it’s often very funny along the way: “Sentient velociraptors riding 30ft long, telepathic crocodiles. What could go wrong?” narrates Milo at one point. In some ways, though, the story could have been somewhat more inventive. Although it’s thousands of years in the future, society apparently still has venture capitalism, hostile takeovers, contemporary slang, and sexism. Indeed, female characters are constantly leered at and often spoken to in a condescending manner, and powerful women only get that way through the use of their sexuality.
Entertaining and well written, for the most part, but its point of view on women feels stale.
Pub Date: July 31, 2019
Page count: 513pp
Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2019
A vampire/businessman works to emancipate his sentient spaceship partner in this SF, second in a series.
In The Turing Revolt (2019), narrator Milo Sapphire was a far-future spaceship captain and interstellar trader who launched a rebellion against the ruling Mercantile Empire to free Sentient Ships from debt slavery. After gunning down an operative of the Lotus Eaters Society, the empire’s secret police, Milo has retreated to Calla’cara, a vacation planet populated by talking dinosaurs and empathic crocodile mounts. As CEO of Interstellar Products, Milo’s mission now is to nail down ironclad emancipation formalities, involving financial and legal instruments such as reports, bonds, audits, and contracts, by marshalling his small army of wereanimals and related allies. Milo must also rescue his lover from the cruel clutches of secret-police director Archibald Cox and work out an appropriate revenge while ensuring that Calla’cara can resist takeover by the empire. In Milo’s favor, he’s a roughly 1,000-year-old vampire (thanks to a virus that’s also an inner advising voice) and the Chosen of the Adversary as well as “the scariest motherfucker in the room.” In the first half of this novel, Bartlett pulls off the seemingly impossible—an entertainingly taut, intricate bureaucracy caper centered on filing documents with split-second timing. The second half builds to a dramatic action-thriller conclusion, the many threads clarified throughout by clever exposition. True, Milo’s heroic love life (such as a “personal harem”) is eye-roll–worthy but of a piece with his genial arrogance; he’s also taken down a peg or two by characters like his virus, who mocks him with laughter and the nickname “meatsack.” And, despite Milo’s smug self-confidence, to his own surprise, he genuinely cares for his crew.
Great characters, a fiendish plot, sex, and violence—and even some theology: a terrific read.
Page count: 388pp
Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2020
THE TURING REVOLT: Literary Titan Gold Award, 2019
THE TURING REVOLT: Drunken Druids Award, 2019
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