The Machine Awakes | Adam Christopher | 2015 | Titan Books | 383p | Review copy | Buy the book
Secret agent Von Kodiak is supposedly dead, his identity remade to help him in his ambitious plan to bring down one of the biggest gangsters in this part of the Galaxy. But just when he is about to make his sting, after many months of preparation, Von Kodiak is pulled out by his boss at the Fleet Bureau of Investigation, Laurel Avalon, and taken back to Earth.
The Admiral of the Fleet has been assassinated, only days after he was secretly deposed by his council for failing to defeat humanity’s greatest threat, the Spiders, with telepathically-trained, elite troops. All of these troops are tagged and Avalon believes that this proves that one of them was the assassin, Tyler Smith. Unfortunately, Smith was recently killed in a battle with the Spiders – at the same time, worryingly, that his sister Cait disappeared from the Fleet Academy. Von Kodiak is tasked with locating Cait. But during the briefing the new Admiral is killed. Something far more sinister is at work here, something that threatens the stability of the Fleet and the security of Earth. Very little now stands between Earth and the monstrous bio-robotic planet-sized Spiders, which have already in a previous attack destroyed most of the southern hemisphere.
The Machine Awakes is set in the same universe as The Burning Dark but they are very different books, with little more than the Spider Wars linking them. You don’t need to have read one to read the other. The Burning Dark is a horror story set on a claustrophobic space station. In The Machine Awakes the universe is greatly expanded and the Spiders are much more than ominous ghosts. They are now very real and getting closer by the day. As the novel begins it is clear that something very sinister is happening within Jupiter’s storms. The pressure is on.
The Machine Awakes is military science fiction spiced with a liberal sprinkling of conspiracy. We’re shown a future on Earth where the rich live in walled enclaves and the poor and the criminal exist outside in large ruinous urban sprawls. Fear of the Spiders and resentment of the rich have spawned religious cults which threaten the status quo while many seek a way out through enlisting in the Fleet to fight the Spiders on desolate, God forsaken distant planets. But the Spiders are just one sign of the ominous rise of artificial intelligence in this universe, there’s plenty more of that here and our hero Von Kodiak and Cait are in their sights.
This is an entertaining and fast thriller. It’s pumped full of action, half on earth, half in space, and there are plenty of twists and turns as Koviak tries to find Cait and then work out exactly who or what is running things. But I did have issues and would have welcomed more to it. I was fond of Cait but I would have liked her to have had more to do. She is undoubtedly gifted and strong, more than able to give better than she takes, but for much of the book she is a confused and tortured victim, sometimes literally being carried along. Kodiak is much more rounded but there are red herrings scattered throughout, suggesting that his plot to bring down the gangster would play a more prominent role in the book than it actually does. As for the psi-troops, I would have liked to have learned much more about them – especially Tyler Smith – and their war with the Spiders.
Adam Christopher intrigues me with the Spider Wars series. I really enjoy being frightened by this universe and this has continued from The Burning Dark. At the end of that book, I was so eager to have more Spiders and Adam Christopher has answered me. These are truly terrifying creatures on an unbelievably hideous scale. There is a strong sense that people are only just hanging on and it comes as no surprise that the Fleet is under attack – people are frightened and suspicious. But what is very clear is that the biggest threat to mankind might not be what they fear the most.
On a purely superficial note, I love the covers of these books…
The Burning Dark