Book Title: Reentry – Retrograde, Book 2
Author: Peter Cawdron
Publication Date: June 11, 2019
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Liz Anderson and two of her compatriots are called home from Mars to account for what happened after the events of “Retrograde”. Still grieving the loss of her love, Jianyu, she has some mixed feelings about returning to Earth. The artificial intelligence that ravaged Mars and Earth in an attempt to destroy humanity has been beaten. Liz takes home the hard drives containing the A.I.’s remnants for research purposes. But also on those drives is what the A.I. downloaded from Jianyu’s brain. Thinking Jianyu might somehow still be in there, she ruminates on the nature of consciousness and whether he can be saved.
Lurking in the shadows are Lucifer and Nyx. These two are arguing over what to do next in their conflict with humanity. As they observe and influence events, they try to decide how best to proceed to achieve their ultimate goals. Meanwhile, the entire world is on edge, fighting an enemy who they thought was vanquished. They’re jumping at shadows out of fear, paranoid at every possible moment that the artificial intelligence comes out of hiding and attacks them again. While Liz defends her actions on Mars to the American government, Lucifer decides to put his plan into motion. What is Lucifer’s overall plan and how is Liz involved in all of this? All I can say is, Liz should beware Lucifer.
As Liz travels back to her home planet and assimilates back into Earth culture, she sees how it has been devastated by the war with the artificial intelligence. This destruction is aptly demonstrated by the riots in the streets, government overreach onto foreign soil and the generalized helplessness to fight against an enemy no one can find, let alone eliminate permanently. This desperation is palpably felt by the reader as Liz absorbs on a personal lever what this war has done to the world.
With that, there is an inherent wrongness to this situation, in that Liz feels she is being watched for some reason she cannot fathom. As a result, Liz doesn’t know who she can trust. This atmosphere of dread permeates the novel, like something bad is going to happen, but no one knows when. It also heightens the suspense of the situation and makes for mesmerizing reading.
Like “Retrograde”, the first novel in this duology, there is a pivotal twist that completely changes the course of the novel and points it in a new and surprising direction. At first, it seems like it’s about one thing but then it’s about something else, adding an intriguing new layer on top of the plot we already were aware of. However, with that revelation, you do wonder whether you can trust what you just read. The definitive answer to that question does come later. But until you get that answer, you are wondering for the rest of the novel whether this is some kind of a trick or the real deal. It also unexpectedly taps into the deeper emotions that drive us all. Purpose, compassion, love, empathy, all these things play an important role as the story plays out into its rapturous and exciting conclusion.
The stakes are just as high, with the fate of the world’s security at risk. The story benefits from this closer intimacy, as it focuses on just a couple of key characters from the first novel and their interpersonal relationships. As a result, it feels much more personal than before, without losing any of the intensity of its plot.
“Retrograde” had a large cast of characters while still focusing almost exclusively on Liz and what’s going on around her. But this feels more stripped down, taking away the large cast and focusing a spotlight solely on Liz and the actions she must take to protect herself and what she values. As a result, we get an even deeper dive into Liz, her thoughts and her motivations.
As always, science is an important component of the author’s story. For example, his descriptions of being in space and reentering its atmosphere are very real, as it depicts space travel like what we are already familiar with, even though this novel takes place in the future closely based on what we know now. While I will never be an astronaut, I do know that by reading his novels, this is the closest I’ll ever come to experiencing the immersive you-are-there experience of being in space.
I also appreciated the discussion about the nature of artificial intelligence and the different ways of how consciousness can be defined. The expansion of these ideas to include more human-like artificial intelligence, one that has feelings that run the gamut of the emotional spectrum, is explored attentively here. The considerate examination of this, along with how artificial intelligence interacts with human beings, was integrated well into this novel. The afterword included at the end also explains these ideas and more with greater depth and how this tale is grounded in the real world.
It’s also just really terrifying how well artificial intelligence could be integrated into our lives without us knowing about it. The ability to exert absolute control over humanity through the clever use of technology and its ability to misdirect is chilling. It also makes me wonder about the computer I typed this review on, as this novel inspires distrust and doubt about how we use technology in our everyday lives without thinking about the consequences of that.
Having read many of the author’s stories before, I’m continuously drawn to the stories he has to tell. His works always are a perfect blend of humanity, technology, and science that continues to capture my imagination. This novel is no different in that regard, as the hallmarks of his strong writing are evident here.
I need to take a moment to also compliment the beautifully haunting cover by artist Elizabeth Leggett, which perfectly encapsulates all the important elements of this story into one stunning image. It’s a cover I continuously referred to and gazed at while reading the story, as it brought to life what was in my imagination as I read it. She also did the cover for “Retrograde”, which is equally spectacular.
The author rarely does sequels to his own works, so when I read that “Retrograde” was getting one, I was delighted. That being said, a sequel can sometimes inevitably be defined by and compared to the first one. I’m happy to report that this novel compares very favorably to “Retrograde”!
In this age of sequels where it is demanded that they be bigger and better than their predecessor, this one goes into atypical directions that defy whatever expectations you think a sequel needs to be while still being a high-quality story. In the process, it gave me an equally satisfying story that I didn’t know I wanted until I read it. That redefinition of what a sequel can be is the ultimate reading pleasure.
It’s a successful, intelligent and impressive thriller that was compulsive reading for me. Each time I put the book down, it was difficult. I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen next when I could begin reading again. It’s this kind of fantastic storytelling that makes me look forward to more stories by this author. I found this novel to be thoughtful and thrilling science fiction at its finest.
Please note I received an advance copy of this ebook through NetGalley.
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories by Peter Cawdron include “Hello World – An Anthology of Short Stories” and “Chronicle Worlds: Legacy Fleet – An Anthology of Speculative Fiction – Future Chronicles, Book 20“.