Adrienne Martini Reviews Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

Artifact Space, Miles Cameron (Gollancz 978-1-473-23260-0, £18.99), 568pp, tp) June 2021.

If you are a fan of space operas with buckets of world building and solid characters, Miles Cameron’s Artifact Space is the book you need. I know this because I am always on the look-out for exactly this, and this book sparked joy.

Humanity has gone through an Age of Chaos – the details of this aren’t super clear but don’t really need to be – and transformed into a space-going species. But the means of space travel aren’t controlled by governments; instead, the ships are part of voluntary trade associations. Their main goal is to make money, not protect and defend, mostly because no one has really figured out how to make all-out war work with interstellar distances and timescales.

Rather than ruthlessly do what it takes to drive profit and turn an eye to human suffering, these companies are more of a ‘‘socialist merchant class,’’ as a character explains. Our hero Nbaro, an orphan born into a great family but who has seen hard times, is our guide into how this whole system works. She bluffs her way onto the great ship Athens, which is about to set off on a three-year mission. Not long into her posting, one of the other great ships in the company’s line disappears, and no one knows why. It could be enemy action, human error, or something of a more alien origin.

What follows is a delight. The plot dips and dives as Nbaro and her friends try to save the Athens from an unknown fate. In the process, Nbarro works through some of the baggage her early years saddled her with. It is both a familiar structure and a surprising one that works well in Cameron’s hands.

The only downside is that Artifact Space is the first half of a duology. While the story comes to a sort-of satisfying stopping point, it is abundantly clear that it isn’t finished. And now the wait begins for the second half.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the September 2021 issue of Locus.

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