Serengeti

  • by J. B. Rockwell
  • Narrated by Elizabeth Wiley
  • 10 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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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Customer Reviews

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beautifully told AI relationships

The premises of this book were so good. During a battle between the Meridian Alliance and the Dark Star Revolution, Serengeti, a war spaceship, suffers important damages which make her to retreat, but with the bad luck that the ship gets lost and the navigation system breaks down. The few survivors go into the cryogenic pod to be ejected and send a stress signal, but the power failure prevents it. For some reason the stress signal cannot be send if the pod is still inside the main ship, so Serengeti and her robots will need to find a solution to this.

Ships AI are very special in Rockwell’s world. Their personality depends on the kind of spaceship they are in, and they have complete authority over the captain.

Here are two different story lines for different public. The first third of the book is about the battle and some character introduction. This part could be a little bit confusing because we also get presented with how ships AI work and the different kinds, but I would say it is the most science fictional part of the book. The second part is about how Serengeti and her robots try to get the lifeboat ejected. There is little science or science fiction here. If you are looking for science fiction facts, like me, you will be disappointed. There are some faulty attempts at techy babble, but it is just that, babble. On the contrary, there were a lot of characteristics and actions from the AI and the robots that you will never see in other science fiction books, like: shrugging, shivering, laughing, getting angry, blushing, melting with pleasure, being on the edge of robot tears. I also wonder how Serengeti stroked her electric fingers across the robots’ cheeks. This second part seems indeed a Disney movie for children, due to the fact that the AI is too humanized to be realistic, has feelings and a will, and addresses the robots like they were her children. And they behave like so repeating ‘tada!’ again and again.

Something that made me cringe too were the failed attempts to express techy concepts that were in fact, like explaining them to children: Serengeti’s interference over the lifeboat was explained like there was too much of her for the lifeboat to be able to send a signal; the cameras were called electronic eyes; Serengeti had ‘subminds’ (strange word for multitasking). It is also mentioned a couple of times that Serengeti’s mind is a hundred times more powerful than human. Well, that’s quite poor, I would say. There is also the fact that Serengeti asks one of the robots to fix his translation routine because talking to him is becoming tireless. From here the robot switches from beeps to actual words. This is just nonsense, since machines communicate at a much lower level. With all these details you see that Rockwell does not know much about science or IT, something essential if you want to venture into writing science fiction.

The second part of the book is full with Serengeti’s ramblings with many repetitions and reiterations, making it very slow paced. The goal here were saving the humans, which Rockwell tried to introduce in the first part and then later on in Serengeti’s dreams. Even like that, except for the captain, they were one dimensional and it is difficult to connect with them.

Elizabeth Wiley did a very good job in transmitting the endearing atmosphere between Serengeti and her robots, but sadly it also accentuated the fact that this book is like a movie for children. Male’s voices sounded like cartoon characters and the robots’ voices were just too cute and sounded like a movie from Pixar.

All in all, even with all the eye rolling I did while I was listening to it, I remember now the book with a smile. It is not a book for science fiction lovers, but I expect it to have much success among those who are not into science fiction. The story between Serengeti and her robots is beautifully told, and it would work well with the younger readers.

Audiobook was provided for review by the author.

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Endearing Space Opera

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

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.


Who was your favorite character and why?

Serengeti is by far the most important and impactful character. TIG and her human captain are also portrayed nicely.


Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I indeed laughed a few times and almost cried once.


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- David Mark Brown "hache"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-26-2016
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio