RogerBW's Blog

Torchship, Karl K Gallagher 13 April 2018

2015 science fiction, first of a trilogy. After the AI catastrophe, there are two sorts of colony world: the ones where computers are strictly regulated and monitored, and the ones where they aren't allowed at all. The "analog ship" Fives Full is navigated by slide-rule and sextant.

OK, the Heinleinian inspiration is fairly obvious here, and one feels that Gallagher got the idea of a ship without electronics first and set up the world round it. It does get a bit more interesting than that, but this is definitely a story where the rivets show, and the author can tell you just why each one was put where it is.

The characters are less convincing. Michigan Long (cough), the primary viewpoint, is revealed in the first chapter to be some sort of covert operative… but then spends most of the rest of the book lying about it, and since there's little or no internal monologue any character development we get could just as easily be part of her cover persona as anything real. Everyone else is much more of a background character, and gets one personality trait at most.

The plot is very bitty and repetitive: here's a job for the ship, they take it on, something goes wrong, they sort it out, repeat several more times. There are some hints at bigger things going on (particularly with occasional brief narrative cuts to a second viewpoint character), but this book taken individually doesn't end as much as it fades out.

It's OK, and I'll read the next one, but the author's heart is clearly very much in the technicalities and everything else suffers a bit as a result. Followed by Torchship Pilot.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:52pm on 13 April 2018

    No computers is one thing. No electronics is much harder. Are they using a mechanical indicator between the bridge and the engine room? Speaking tubes for communications between rooms? All of which are entirely unecessary if what is being avoided is AI.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:31pm on 13 April 2018

    No electronics at all. The worlds they visit are just a little bit paranoid – a vignette shows someone executed on the spot for modding his game console – but it's somewhat understandable given the cultural history, and indeed ongoing attack by computer-infecting microprobes sent out by the AI worlds.

    (Yes, of course there are secret AI researchers. That's mentioned in the B plot, though it's clearly mostly being saved for future volumes.)

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