Serengeti: It was supposed to be an easy job: find the Dark Star Revolution Starships, destroy them, and go home. But a booby-trapped vessel decimates the Meridian Alliance fleet, leaving Serengeti-a Valkyrie class warship with a sentient AI brain -on her own; wrecked and abandoned in an empty expanse of space. On the edge of total failure, Serengeti thinks only of her crew. She herds the survivors into a lifeboat, intending to sling them into space. But the escape pod sticks in her belly, locking the cryogenically frozen crew inside. Then a scavenger ship arrives to pick Serengeti’s bones clean. Her engines dead, her guns long silenced, Serengeti and her last two robots must find a way to fight the scavengers off and save the crew trapped inside her. – Goodreads
So, I never thought I’d read a story where the whole first third of it was one massive battle, and walk away saying I liked it. I have a short attention span, so protracted scenes tend to make me wander off. However, the action in J.B. Rockwell’s Serengeti was interesting enough that it kept my attention glued to it. I read it while taking a bubble bath, whilst walking through the house, etc. And when things calmed down (and they do calm way down), I happily kept reading it.
Serengeti is one part pulse-pounding action, two parts Wall-E 2. And, surprisingly, the two completely different types of books work really well together. The first third allows you to garner respect for the AI controlling the ship Serengeti, and to begin thinking of her as a ‘person’. As Serengeti, herself. A being, not a ship. That’s a crucial step to being able to feel for her as the other two-thirds happen. And you do feel for Serengeti. J.B. Rockwell does a fantastic job of showcasing the AI’s humanity even as she’s doing things that no human could do. The feelings of isolation, and sorrow tug at you again and again. But her sheer determination and loyalty to her crew keep you rooting for her.
There were problems with the book, though. One of the biggest problems I had with Serengeti is that I had trouble believing the AI was that human. It had its moments where it seemed more like an unwitting anthromorphosism than actually believable evolution. That might partially be my mind’s unwillingness to believe that the development of AI can progress that far. However, J.B. Rockwell inserts enough coldly logical thoughts/acts that she mostly keeps pulling it back from being too much for too long. Mostly. There’s a character introduced at one point in the later half of the story that I just cannot buy. It’s a little too much.
It’s hard to review the book as a whole because of how very different the sections are. I will say that J.B. Rockwell wrote one of the best space battles I’ve read in a long time. It was clearly written, easy to visualize, and full of enough deaths and explosions to make my heart go pitter-pat. It’s a lovely book to curl up with, as it gets you revved up and then slowly pulls your emotions back down. Serengeti is one of those books you’ll end up re-reading, just to see if she can invoke the hope and melancholy in you all over again.