In Providence, Mankind is fighting an alien race that acts nothing like mankind. The derogatory label of Salamanders is applied to this exoskeletal species. They appear to live in hives the size of planets out in the far, far universe. When we first run into them, they kill the majority of a whole spaceship of humans.

One of the survivors returns. Her speeches linger on the bravery of the, now dead, crew. Earth decides to create a new level of ship called a Providence run by super-intelligent artificial intelligence with a minimal crew of four humans. This is the story of Providence Five. There is the survivor, who is the ship’s Captain Jackson. There is Gilly on intel. He checks up on the ship’s systems and repairs any issues he finds. Anders is on weapons and rather a loose cannon around the ship. Finally, there is Beanfield. She is the Life officer, who acts as the team’s psychologist and caregiver.

Providence starts out as a slow-moving character-driven space opera. After about 50% of the book has passed, the excitement ratchets up as well as the philosophical theories. What is the nature of sentience? Can artificial intelligence be so smart that man doesn’t even understand what it is doing or what its goals are? Could AI develop goals that conflict with its initial human-programmed goals? Even why do we always assume that aliens will look and act just like us?

I loved the layers underneath the space opera story but I also loved the opera too. The entirety was a delicious look into a possible future for mankind. If you just want to read the story for its action sequences, or its character interaction, you can. But it is a much better book if you savor the underlying nuances of the plot. After all, isn’t that what separates all good science fiction from great science fiction? I think this one is the latter. 5 stars and one of my favorites this year!

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.

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