Featuring an extremely interesting — and very well executed — core concept, and thrilling action scenes, Serengeti by J. B. Rockwell (@Rockwell_JB) is a very satisfying sci-fi read. In fact, it’s more like two great reads, which I’ll elaborate on below.
First up, that interesting concept: the story’s protagonist is Serengeti, a sentient Artificial Intelligence, or AI. Serengeti’s “crystal matrix” mind controls a heavily-armed space warship, which shares the AI’s name. There is a human crew onboard as well, including a grizzled and blooded veteran as captain, but Serengeti is in charge. One of the hottest military trends today is using drones and robots to remove people from the dangers of combat; Serengeti is a logical extension of that trend although the addition of a human crew seems to be a nod to tradition as well as providing redundancy.
In fact, all 300+ ships in the Meridian Alliance battle group sent on a mission to destroy a smaller fleet of rampaging rebel ships are controlled by AIs of various capabilities, including Brutus, the prickly battle group commander. Going up the chain of command, the alliance’s entire fleet is also controlled by an AI. As a veteran of the U.S. Navy, I found the idea of having highly-evolved computers command both the ships and battle groups/fleets intriguing, and more directly the interplay between Serengeti and her crew, and Serengeti with the other AIs in the battle group, was simply fascinating.
Serengeti’s affinity for her crew sets up the second half of the book. As mentioned above, to my way of thinking Serengeti the book tells two interconnected stories. The opening half takes place over the course of a few hours as Serengeti and the Meridian Alliance battle group search for the rebellious ships of the Dark Star Revolution. The pace is quick and pages fly by. The back half of the book, detailing the decades-long consequences flowing from these hours, moves at a more measured tempo. Both “stories” form a riveting whole capped by an epilogue that resolves the immediate plot. There is a second book — which I added to my To Read List after the first few chapters of Serengeti — but those readers who dislike cliffhangers won’t have any quibbles.