It was supposed to be an easy job: find the Dark Star Revolution Starships, destroy them, and go home. But a booby-trapped vessel decimates the Meridian Alliance fleet, leaving Serengeti - a Valkyrie class warship with a sentient AI brain - on her own, wrecked and abandoned in an empty expanse of space. On the edge of total failure, Serengeti thinks only of her crew. She herds the survivors into a lifeboat, intending to sling them into space. But the escape pod sticks in her belly, locking the cryogenically frozen crew inside. Then a scavenger ship arrives to pick Serengeti's bones clean. Her engine's dead, her guns long silenced; Serengeti and her last two robots must find a way to fight the scavengers off and save the crew trapped inside her.
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A fun read Ta Da
Endearing Space Opera
This book was not what I expected but charming and worth the listen. Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book (audiobook version) in exchange for an honest review.
Serengeti, by J.B. Rockwell, opens with an epic battle, armada against rebel armada. After the first fifty pages (nearly an hour of the audiobook), I realized the pace was diverging from what I've come to expect with such a scene and genre. Rockwell takes her time in unfurling the relationships between the human crew and AI crew of the Valkyrie class starship Serengeti, and an interesting dynamic guides these relationships. In Rockwell’s universe the AI are in charge while remaining humbly indebted to their human creators. AI minds are master’s of their own fates while still harboring human crews inside their starship hulls.
The story is not a military sci-fi at all. Instead it becomes quite the AI drama. Without spoiling the story, I'll simply say that Serengeti herself is the central focus. This much should be obvious by the title, but the reader could easily start off by thinking of "Serengeti" as "Enterprise." This is not at all the case.
Serengeti is a stark and slow-blossoming story featuring moments that made me laugh and a couple that brought me to the verge of tears. Rockwell's strengths are the intimate, small-scale moments. She seems to recognize this. Even the epic battle at the beginning of the story is broken down and parsed out amidst continuously developing relationships and growing tension.
A couple of times I was jolted from the story when plot elements made me furrow my brows. Once, Serengeti overlooked an important aspect of her own schematic. For a super AI this struck me as convenient for the overall plot. And a few phrases were overused. Perhaps these stood out more due to hearing the story rather than reading it.
But these are small complaints for a story that I rather enjoyed. The audio performance was excellent as well. As all good books should, Serengeti left me asking a handful of deeper questions: What is intelligence? Organic? Artificial? Can the two be bridged? What of morality? What of life? Is there a universal created order/pattern that will emerge within all intelligence if given time? Or will the things humans create always gravitate toward human characteristics—imitation being the sincerest form of flattery? Thoughtful questions from a well-told story.
Serengeti is by far the most important and impactful character. TIG and her human captain are also portrayed nicely.
I indeed laughed a few times and almost cried once.
- David Mark Brown