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.