Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Australian author Peter Cawdron has followed up his superb novel, Retrograde, with a fast-paced science fiction thriller that’s just as engrossing and just as firmly grounded in hard science. In Reentry, he picks up the story of Dr. Elizabeth Anderson as she returns from Mars to face an investigation of the battle she led there against the artificial intelligence that had ignited nuclear war on Earth. And in telling the tale, Cawdron paints a convincing picture of how astronauts, both past and present, experience life in space.
In Retrograde, Liz Anderson had defeated the AI at enormous cost. The fighting left much of the multi-trillion-dollar colony in shambles and half the colonists dead. Among them was her lover, Chinese surgeon Jianyu (Jai), whose consciousness may or may not live on in a set of hard drives the three have in their possession. At the same time, conditions on Earth are worse. “Radioactive debris still glows in craters where once mighty cities stood. Although the war is over, the fires still burn.”
Reentry (Retrograde #2) by Peter Cawdron (2019) 304 pages ★★★★★
A fast-paced science fiction thriller that explores our relationship with AI
Now, Liz and the two most senior members of the Chinese colonists are heading back home, their fate uncertain. And no sooner do they arrive on Earth than it becomes clear their reception will be hostile in the extreme. The American leadership somehow holds the colonists in general, and Liz in particular, responsible for the war that nearly destroyed human civilization. And they’re especially focused on the hard drives that harbor Jai’s consciousness, which they regard as a hostile artificial intelligence.
Separated from her Chinese colleagues, Liz soon discovers that the American public regards her as a traitor. Everywhere she goes she is the target of assassination attempts. And when she testifies before Congress and challenges the official line, the hostility grows even more intense.
Meanwhile, we follow an ongoing debate among the AIs that have multiplied since the war. The dominant voice, an AI mischievously named Lucifer, insists on collaborating with Liz. Others regard the plan as folly, certain to lead to their destruction. But Lucifer prevails. And none too soon, as Liz’s life is repeatedly threatened by American soldiers who represent an unforgiving US government.
About the author
Peter Cawdron brings a scientist’s precision and a novelist’s skill in plotting and characterization to this fast-paced science fiction thriller. This is a tale sure to delight any fan of hard science fiction.
In an engaging Afterword, Cawdron lays out his views on artificial intelligence. “Rather than being logical, we’re emotional,” he writes. “We fear that which we don’t understand, but fears are seldom rational. Are there dangers associated with the advent of A.I.? Yes. But understanding them in advance allows us to guide how the future unfolds. Rather than projecting our own fears about our own intelligence destroying the world onto an A.I., there’s the very real possibility the emergence of artificial intelligence could help us solve the problems we currently face.” All of which seems to me to be an eminently reasonable perspective on the question.
For related reading
Earlier I reviewed this novel’s equally thrilling predecessor, Retrograde. It’s reviewed at What life on Mars would really be like. I’ve also reviewed an outstanding standalone novel by Peter Cawdron, 3zekiel (First Contact)—A thoughtful treatment of First Contact in this new sci-fi novel. And I’ve included Peter Cawdron on my list of Ten new science fiction authors worth reading now.
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- These novels won both Hugo and Nebula Awards
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