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Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Book review: Servants of Man, Samuel J Hanna (2019)

This novella is a neat piece of science fiction set on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. The year is 3148 and Australia rules the solar system. Navy Lieutenant Tiffany Sparks, an android, and her captain Marisol, also an android, are lovers and visit the planet to meet with the local human leaders when a rebellion of androids seeking enfranchisement declares a revolution and overwhelms the navy crew in a gun battle. Marisol is killed and Tiffany must guide a bunch of loyalist androids from the town of Caabony across rivers and past the Galadriel Hills to refuge at Lothlorien Scientific Mission.

The pacing is very good and the plot is complex enough to make things interesting but the barriers that are put up are not so high as to strain credibility. I think the balance between heroism and luck is competently handled and in between the (mercifully) brief gun fights there is plenty of time to muse on such things as mortality and the nature of a good life well lived.

In telling its story this book makes enquiries about other things too, such as consciousness and conscience, and humans don’t come out of the drama looking very good. For the most part they are proud and lustful and less empathetic than the androids who have been designed to serve them. In many ways, the androids are the better, more noble creatures. The relationships that they form with one another are models for conduct in any culture and all of this intelligent dialogue on things that habitually animate speculative writers takes place in a strange environment that reminded me in its outlandish beauty of the Mars of old Ray Bradbury novels.

I’m not usually a big fan of science fiction but this smart, compassionate book held my interest for all of its length, which was not long as it turned out. In fact the ending felt premature, which is why I have labelled the work a novella. When the narrative ends you feel as though you have reached the end of a preamble to the main story.

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