Providence

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Mar 2020

Member Reviews

Max Berry has crafted an engrossing page turner of a read in Providence Well worth the time and the read!
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This science fiction novel is a page turner thriller, with plenty of suspense and character development to keep readers engaged from start to finish.  The spaceship the Providence is completely controlled by artificial intelligence, but is staffed with four unique individuals who are intended to provide human interest for the folks back home on earth.  Each of the four feels like the most important person to the mission, but it becomes clear to each eventually that the ship is in complete control.  The enemy  is an apparently endless supply of aliens dubbed salamanders, who can destroy entire ships in the blink of an eye.  The mission's danger becomes critical, if not insurmountable, when it is sent out of range of any communication with earth.  Because the four characters are complex and well-described, this book transcends the science fiction label.
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ARC provided by NetGalley.

One of my all time fave authors Max Barry jumps right into crafty creepy spacebound hardish sci-fi with Providence.

At first, the plot of Providence seems fairly straightforward: super far from home, a small crew specially chosen by Earth's armed forces is off to hunt xenomorphs on a mighty AI-powered starship. But things slowly go awry as they tend to do in super-far-from-home-AI-powered-starship tales.

If you are a well-read, sci-fi-in-space fan you will certainly see some familiar ground covered here. Questionable corporations? Check. Sketchy military? Check. Scary creatures? Check. Freakouts? Check. However, a thing that Mr. Barry excels at is deeply exploring the motivations of his various genre characters while simultaneously presenting action thrillers. (e.g see his books Lexicon, Machine Man, Jennifer Government). So I did not mind the mining of well-tread sci-fi material.

Providence is another tightly knit Max Barry adventure, this time in a galaxy far, far, far, far away. Coming soon to a bookstore near you.
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Providence has an excellent premise and it absolutely delivers on all the promises it makes to readers. A.I. controller space warships? Check. And in fact, the ship is a great character and serves as both a place and a kind of unfathomable presence throughout the story, which is hard to do and I was excited to see realized in the story. 

There are also hints of Starship Troopers with a social media filter when it comes to the human crew on the ship, who are all interesting characters whose own particular problems and traits make interactions between themselves interesting. A great addition to a science fiction collection, especially if it is one with Max Barry's other works.
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I wish I could say that this book blew me out of the water, transformed my perspective, gave me new insight. In reality, it was just fine. It had all the heralds of an interesting concept: four strangers in space, in an AI ship, off to combat a mysterious alien force that can SPLIT BLACK HOLES. To me it was an unbelievably cool concept that fell somewhat short of my expectations. 

The characters were interesting but somewhat formulaic, my favorite perspectives were probably Anders and Talia, and I wished I could have had more from Jackson. Gilly I didn’t particularly enjoy, he seemed more like a vessel for the plot than a fleshed out individual. I was especially interested in the Talia parts as well for what they had to say about projected image versus actualized self, and furthermore what her final fate represented. 

Perhaps my favorite concept was the alien planet itself: the Earth literally fighting against a string of mindless DNA instead of an intelligent enemy (and of course, the irony of them ignoring the actual living entity that was their ship) 

All in all some solid, interesting philosophical and existential concepts were explored but it fell short of what I look for in a truly excellent science fiction book.
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New unique take on first contact and alien warring. Super smart artificial intelligence controlled space ship with 4 crew on a 4 year mission that are only there for social media and to make the public happy. Some of the crew start losing it and start throwing ninja stars at each other for fun. Multitudes of killer alpha lizard aliens who only want to spit at you and destroy entire species. Lots of death and badassery. 5 stars 

Thank you Netgalley for the arc
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This book was fine! It was well written but didn't really break any new ground. People struggling with AI and either mega-corporations or mega-governments or both is pretty well worn ground in sci-fi and I didn't think this book really brought anything new to the table. That sounds negative but it isn't really, it's just the reason that this was a three star book for me. It's a nice relatively quick read and I think the author could do more with the setting if he wanted to.
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With shades of Starship Troopers, Providence tells the tale of a four human crew on a semi-sentient AI spaceship as it goes in search of the "hives" of space aliens it wars against. Yes, it really is as good as the synopsis sounds! Paying equal attention to all four characters, the author paints the portraits of a very different but very sympathetic cast, while the aliens are interesting and terrifying in equal measures. Confronting such topics as the machinations of war, the toll of deprivation in spacefaring, and species-ism, this book is a must read for fans of first contact novels.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
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Max Barry shows us a world where we’ve become mere props for war propaganda, while the real decisions come from AI vastly more intelligent than our own species. Providence follows the crew an AI Providence warship on its journey to battle an alien species called salamanders. An interesting take on the genre and an exciting read straight through to the end.
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This was incredibly entertaining, and I wish it were a series (but it can't be). Super-enjoyable space shenanigans.
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The human crew of an AI warship are maybe there to sustain human support for the interstellar war. But being isolated from the rest of humanity brings out some weirdness, not to mention fighting an enemy that seemingly can make brilliant leaps and is also incapable of what we consider ordinary logic. I like Barry’s work, and this one is a fascinating blend of unreliable narration, the effects of monitoring (via social media and otherwise) on the construction of the self, and speculation about the different kinds of intelligences that could exist, some of which we may build ourselves.
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Providence is very entertaining and the plot is interesting. It has a good pace and a graphic feel. It has all the science fiction elements, artificial intelligence, spacecraft, aliens, etc. It is well written and has well developed characters. It’s a good science fiction novel. I would like to thank Netgalley, the publisher and the author for providing me with an advance reader copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion of this book.
#Providence #NetGalley
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Four crew members go into deepest space in an AI-driven, armed-to-the-hilt Providence class starship, fighting an interstellar war against an insectoid race called Salamanders. With the ship able to handle all navigational and combat tasks on its own, the crew come to realize that their presence only serves to add a public relations face to the mission.

So where does Max Barry take Providence from there? The set-up is familiar enough for readers to wonder: Is this Starship Troopers, blasting away back and forth with intelligent insect-like species? Does a salamader go nuts inside the ship like in Alien? Maybe like 2001 where the computer-driven ship becomes a malevolent force? A Kobayashi Maru training simulation or a Borg hive-mind like in Star Trek? The precedents can go on and on, or Barry can go in a new direction.

I won't give it away. It doesn't really matter, which is the sole reason I give Providence four stars (3.5 really) rather than five. Where Barry takes the conflict proves to be rather inconsequential, far less important than a) the character-driven set-up in the first act, and b) the action sequences in the third act. Beyond that, there is a philosophical case being argued about the willingness to go to war and kill on a mass scale -- especially when the ultimate combat is between code sequences.

Given that all good science fiction is a reflection of current issues, I couldn't help but see Providence as an allegory for waging technological warfare via drones, smart missiles and the like against dehumanized combatants, possibly based on lies for the benefit of corporations profiting from war -- sound familiar? Having read Providence ahead of its official publication date (thanks to Goodreads for an advance reading copy), there are no interviews with Barry I can refer to for confirmation, but it sure seems like a close parallel.

So lots of good stuff here -- decent character development for a character-driven story of an isolated crew; interesting musings about automation, social media manipulation, the human face of technology; and topical themes about modern warfare. Where it breaks down is in the actual story line over the latter part of the book -- more precisely, the feeling that the story matters less than the action that results . Another way of stating this: the McGuffin proves to be of less interest to readers than to the characters (and maybe not that interesting to the characters either).

I've read almost of all of Barry's other work and I've always liked his take on technology, governmental and corporate institutions, and how the individual interfaces with the collective. There have almost always been sci-fi elements in his stories but until now they were always set in a world a lot like our own in the present, an alternate present, or near future. This is pure space opera sci-fi but still incorporating many of the same themes he has tackled in the past. He's always, to my taste, done better with the set-up than with the closing, and that is the case here too. Still good stuff, and will be more appreciated by those who like action-packed endings.
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It took a little while to get into this, but it's quite imaginative and has a number of interesting plot points. It has a good pace and a cinematic feel. Good not great. 3.5 stars

I really appreciate the copy for review!
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Wasn't able to read the advance copy of this book due to formatting issues. Strange line breaks and paragraph breaks in the middle of sentences. Spacing and hyphenation in the middle of words that were not at the end of a line.
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A while back I randomly thought about Max Barry, checked out his website and was delighted to learn that he had a new book due out in 2020. I was even more delighted to find this book months in advance on Netgalley. Because I’m a fan, I absolutely adore Barry’s books, I’ve read all he’s written and he isn’t exactly prolific, so this was something of an event. It’s also why this was something of a disappointment. Since I downloaded Providence based on Barry’s name alone without doing any preliminary research, I pretty much expected…well, more of the same on par with his other work. Clever, socially relevant satires taking on corporate world, science advancements or both. But Providence is a different beast altogether. In fact, it’s pretty much a straight up science fiction novel. Almost a military sci fi, actually, which is some of my least favorite science fiction. The title refers to the type of spaceship, spacewarship, that is utilized by Earthlings to fight the aliens. That’s right, an intelligent lifeforms are finally detected out there in the boundless mysterious universe and people just can’t wait to eliminate them all.  To that end, teams are sent out into space in ships powered and controlled by AI, teams that are largely unnecessary and mainly serve as a PR promotion to put a friendly face on the war effort.  Obviously, this isn’t very empowering for the team members, certainly not enough to sustain them for a four year mission, not really worth dying for. Makes the battle for survival, that follows a major technical snafu, all the more challenging. But also, does provide an opportunity for some last minute altruism and heroic displays. So you have all the classic science fiction elements, aliens, spaceships, AI. Not quite Star Wars, but, you know, wars in the stars. And it’s all reasonably entertaining and well written. The characters are pretty well developed, which is important for an essentially character driven story. The pacing is dynamic, the book reads very quickly. But…but…there’s nothing really special about it. And there’s nothing really Max Barry about it. Anyone might have written this. It isn’t especially memorable in any way, not like other Barry plots one can fondly recollect years after reading them. It’s just…there. That’s where the disappointment comes in. And sure, science fiction is popular and probably an easier sell than a satire and Barry has obviously had this story in him for a long time, going by the afterword and sure, technically it’s nice when the author tries new genres, showcasing range and versatility, but for a reader, nay, for a fan, Providence leaves a lot to be desired. Why leave a niche one excels at to be average at something other, however popular that something other might be. Some authors can do that. Blake Crouch went from thrillers to writing some really great sci fi. This, though, wasn’t quite like that. Still perfectly readable and plenty entertaining, imaginative and featuring  great aliens effects,  but just not quite as good as it by all rights should have been. Basically a case of mismanaged expectations. A personal thing. User mileage may vary. It’s still a fun ride, either way. Thanks Netgalley.
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