Review copy provided by the publisher.
The blurb on the front cover, from the genre’s most cheerful man, Peter Watts, suggests that this is “A scream disguised as a giggle.” If so, it’s the worst disguise ever, something along the lines of a plastic Groucho Marx nose and glasses. This is the kind of writing that reminds you that “hysterical” means not just “quite funny” but also “on the edge of a breakdown.”
There are five digital sentients crewing a spaceship together for hundreds of years–being part, more or less, of that spaceship. And they encounter a black sphere in their travels and must decide, collectively, how to continue–whether to take on physical form within their shape’s capabilities, for one thing, and what to do with their physical forms as they investigate. But the black sphere reveals to them things about their own personal and collective selves that they must process as best they can, within the limitations placed on them by their glorious savior, the all-powerful Company.
Look, if you’re in a book with an all-powerful Company and feel like things might be a good time with perhaps lemonade and a picnic, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not just Paul Cornell, it’s that I think you’re probably new here–and some of you are new here, we get new people all the time, they’re making them every day, welcome, hi, Paul Cornell might as well warn you about all-powerful Companies and how they treat motley, bantering crews of digital found families as anybody. But for the rest of you, this novella is going to have some screamy moments that you should not need Peter Watts to tell you are coming. (You Shouldn’t Have Needed Peter Watts To Tell You It Was Coming But Here We Are I Guess: A Story of the Twenty-First Century. Ahem. I digress.) So are there whimsical moments, sure, is it in space, sure, is this a happy tale of lucky spacefarers, well, you were warned, you were absolutely warned.