Equal parts science-fiction adventure and post-apocalyptic thriller, the sequel to Cawdron’s Retrograde (2017) follows astronaut and Mars colonist Elizabeth Anderson as she returns to Earth to give an account of the disaster that almost wiped out humankind on the red planet.
After Anderson defeated a malicious artificial intelligence that triggered a world war on Earth and almost killed all the colonists on Mars, she returns to Earth assuming that she’ll be received as a hero. Instead, she finds that much of the world perceives her as a traitor—the enemy—as she has had communication with the AI, which possessed, among other things, the uploaded consciousness of her dead lover, Jianyu. Still unsure of whether the artificial intelligence was permanently dispatched or not, the population of Earth is in chaos. Large sections are radioactive wasteland, millions are displaced, and a sense of paranoia pervades everyday life. Once Anderson is back on Earth—with the essence of Jianyu in a box of damaged computer hard drives—her life immediately becomes imperiled as some factions attempt to kill her as a retributive measure and others try to destroy the hard drives they believe contain the last remnants of the killer AI. While the potential is certainly there for a thought-provoking narrative about the dangers of humankind’s dependence on technology, this novel is laid low by a plethora of flaws. First and foremost are the two-dimensional characters, which are so poorly developed they are almost immediately forgettable. The hackneyed subject matter and contrived nature of some sequences negatively impact the reading experience, but arguably the most frustrating element is the novel’s concluding sequence, which isn’t so much a conclusion as it is an arbitrary stopping point until the next installment.
Science-fiction fans looking for novels with derivative storylines, cardboard characters, and unsatisfying endings will find all that and more in this deeply disappointing read.