The first near-lightspeed spaceship is accelerating toward Alpha Centauri, guided by an artificial intelligence and carrying a single passenger. Brett has volunteered for what may well be a one-way mission, trying to restore some shred of meaning to his shattered life. The AI, “Jay,” mimics a human mind and personality–it’s designed to learn, and has the potential to surpass its programming. Something–or someone–is waiting for them in the darkness of space, and the encounter will change both Brett and Jay forever.
P. A. Baines’ debut novel, Alpha Redemption, is a thoughtful, emotional story, full of wonder and mystery. Though it’s set in the future, the speculative window-dressing takes back seat to a tale about grief, coming to terms with loss, and the meaning and nature of redemption, a word we blithely toss about in both secular and religious society without thinking too deeply about it. Baines asks what it might cost to restore a life in shambles and obtain an opportunity to begin again. His answer involves a journey of both spiritual and physical transformation that left me pondering the story’s outcome for a long time after I finished reading.
In a series of flashbacks that go further back in time as the ship nears its destination, we discover more about Brett and the details of the tragedy that defines his life and has driven him to volunteer for this risky mission. In the present, we watch Jay learn from Brett what it means to be human–a parallel journey from programming to sentience, and from student to teacher. When an unexpected crisis threatens their mission, both occupants of the spacecraft must make a decision that will complete their respective transformations and seal their fates.
I enjoyed Alpha Redemption. Some of the speculative elements will be very familiar to readers of the genre. There are echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the focus on the characters’ inner journeys is distinctive, and the human and AI are partners, not antagonists. Baines does a nice job developing their relationship into something much deeper than simple comradeship.
Some plot elements were a bit of a stretch, at least at first glance. Brett is little more than a passenger, but so were the first astronauts–it took a few flights for their participation to progress to more than symbolic actions, and the old jokes about “ham in a can” weren’t that far off the mark. Brett also seemed a little old, in his mid-forties, for a mission of this nature, but again, it’s not unusual for astronauts who entered the service in their twenties and thirties to have to wait until their forties before they make it to the front of the line. Selection criteria for Brett’s mission remained shrouded in mystery, as were the details of the star drive. The unusual effects of near-lightspeed travel did reflect some recent observations of subatomic particles accelerated to those speeds in the laboratory. Bottom line, even though the science in this story played only a supporting role, it wasn’t tossed about willy-nilly and didn’t feel far-fetched.
There’s not a lot of bang-zoom action, but if, like me, you prefer science fiction stories that make you think, feel, and wonder, Alpha Redemption might just be the ticket to the stars you’ve been looking for.
>>This review is based upon an electronic copy of the book provided to me free of charge by the publisher, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits.<<