An Au­gust event

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RE­LEASED 18 OC­TO­BER 432 pages | Hard­back/ebook/au­dio­book

Au­thor steven erik­son

Pub­lisher Gol­lancz

When the aliens ar­rive, they’ll want to talk to the world’s lead­ers, won’t they? Not in Steven Erik­son’s lat­est foray into SF, Re­joice (sub­ti­tle: A Knife To The Heart), a first con­tact novel that rests in part on the idea of an alien AI fetch­ing up in the So­lar Sys­tem and de­cid­ing to abduct an SF novelist, Sa­man­tha Au­gust.

The god-like AI has come to our neck of the woods on a mis­sion to save Earth’s biome. See­ing how hu­man­ity is greatly re­spon­si­ble for the de­pleted state of the nat­u­ral world, this isn’t good news for those who work in, say, the log­ging, frack­ing or in­dus­tri­al­level agri­cul­ture sec­tors. More gen­er­ally, this is an AI that’s se­ri­ously hard­core when it comes to stop­ping all ac­tiv­i­ties we might as­so­ciate with late-stage cap­i­tal­ism, to the ex­tent of ex­clud­ing hu­man­ity from ar­eas of its own home planet.

Good news, you might think, ex­cept that as the AI uses its awe­some power to stop con­flict – whether that means wars or do­mes­tic vi­o­lence – and pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, it grad­u­ally be­comes clear that it isn’t so sure that one species on Earth is worth sav­ing: hu­man­ity. It’s Au­gust’s job to me­di­ate what’s oc­cur­ring, and make a cru­cial de­ci­sion.

In many re­spects this is a fa­mil­iar – even over-fa­mil­iar – first con­tact sce­nario, but Erik­son is far too good a writer not to find new an­gles. Some of the barbs at a bel­li­cose Amer­i­can pres­i­dent cer­tainly hit the tar­get, while there’s an un­der­stated hu­mour ev­i­dent through­out, which of­ten makes it seem as if Erik­son is self-con­sciously tack­ling – and some­times em­ploy­ing – first con­tact clichés as a way to get beyond them.

None­the­less, this is also a novel where there’s far too much talk­ing – es­pe­cially the philo­soph­i­cal dis­cus­sions be­tween Au­gust and Adam on sub­jects such as James Love­lock’s ideas around Gaia – that doesn’t es­pe­cially ad­vance the plot. More se­ri­ously, in a novel where an AI can do just about any­thing, there’s a lack of nar­ra­tive ten­sion here – although per­haps that’s partly Erik­son’s peacenik point. Jonathan Wright

Steven Erik­son will be sign­ing copies of Re­joice at For­bid­den Planet’s Lon­don me­ga­s­tore on 25 Oc­to­ber (6pm).

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