(2019) Meghan E. O’Keefe, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 512pp, ISBN 978-0-356-51222-8
Velocity Weapon falls into the category of space opera with a female main character, something we’ve seen plenty of over the past few years. It’s the story of a brother and sister, Biran and Sanda, both tough and brilliant in their own way but carving out completely different career paths. Biran is at the start of an ambitious political career and Sanda is a marine. The story begins with Sanda waking up on board an unknown ship, alone, injured, to find that she has been in stasis for 230 years following a violent confrontation between her home world of Ada and another human group, the Icarians. The ship (Bero) is A.I. (artificial intelligence) and explains to Sanda that the Icarions had a previously unknown weapon that has destroyed her home planet. Sanda is the only survivor. It is a great set up, though Sanda would have been more sympathetic if she’d not adjusted quite so easily to waking up and finding herself missing a leg.
The timeline then jumps backwards 230 years, and we see the desperate attempts of Biran to locate Sanda just after her ship was destroyed and she is confirmed missing. Biran is a Keeper, part of a group tasked with guarding a technology that allows space travel between distant planets, with a newly implanted neural chip to help him use that technology.
For the first half of the book, we jump around from place to place and time to time, seeing Sanda form a friendship with Bero and then with a man called Tomas who is pulled from a stasis pod they find in the wreckage. Sanda does not know who she can trust, but devoid of all contact and hope, thinking her planet and family gone, forms uncomfortable friendships with Bero and Tomas. Biran struggles to get anyone to authorise sending a ship out to look for Sanda, but refuses to give up hope of finding her alive. A third plot thread is thrown into the mix, following a thief called Jules and her friends on another unconnected planet who discover a warehouse full of an illegal drug that has strange effects on Jules.
The book has a fairly major twist in the middle that I do not want to spoil. Suffice to say that everything is not as it appears and A.I. ships cannot be trusted.
Velocity Weapon has all the necessary pieces and great potential, but in the end those pieces don’t hang together as quite they should. The first half of the book is quite confusing in places, something which isn’t helped by the fact that Jules’ storyline has no connection to the others. The world is extensive and ambitious but it feels underdeveloped and it is hard to centre yourself in it as a reader. The role of the Keepers isn’t fully fleshed out and we are told that Sanda and Biran have two fathers but no mother with no explanation of either the society or the technology that would enable this. The history of the different human societies is also lacking. The twists and turns, which at first help to create intrigue and momentum, end up feeling contrived as the lack of foreshadowing makes the book feel unpolished.
The exploration of an A.I ship forced to do terrible things, and suffering emotionally as a result, is fascinating and offers so much scope and there was some exploration of this, but I would have liked much more and in the end, the book tries to do so many different things that it ends up not doing any of them particularly well. Overall it felt undercooked. I hope that the next book pulls the world together a little more coherently as there is still so much to learn about Bero. Readers who liked the 'Expanse' series or Peter F. Hamilton may find something to enjoy here but it probably won’t work for fans of Bujold or Moon who prefer a stronger focus on future society rather than intrigue.
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