Starship Alchemon by Christopher Hinz
Angry Robot, pb, £9.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
The AI vessel Alchemon is sent to investigate an “anomalous biosignature” on a distant planet. LeaMarsa is a gifted psionic, is among the nine-man crew on board. From her first encounter with the potential new life form, she believes it is using her psionic power to influence the rest of the crew as well as the AI ship itself. Or is it possible that her presence on the Alchemon has more to do with driving mad another crewmember with limited psionic power to cover up an corporate psychopath? Or has the ship’s lytic, the biological interface between the ship and its crew, gone insane and is killing them all while placing blame everywhere else? With so many possibilities, so many motives, will LeaMarsa find the truth before it is too late.
Starship Alchemon is told through two different points of view; LeaMarsa and the ship’s captain, Ericho both of whom are unreliable. Ericho is under the influence of strong psionic powers, making him paranoid, aggressive, and indecisive. He knows he is missing things but can’t put his finger on it. LeaMarsa hates everyone from her parents who used gene technology to design her to the corporation she works for. It stops her from bonding with her crewmates, further isolating her. She doesn’t know whether what she feels is because of her power, their location of deep space, or even the new lifeform in their hold.
This means that we readers are kept guessing throughout. Each option for an explanation is plausible and Ericho moves from solution to solution because he is mentally impaired. It is fast-paced and intelligent. Even though the actual cause is one you already are aware of as a possibility, it isn’t until the last quarter you are certain and that kept me turning the page.
For me, the ending was a let-down. It felt a little too clean. I like my endings gritter although you could argue that with multiple deaths and no chance of going back to life as it was before, I am being picky and I wouldn’t disagree with you.
I really enjoyed Starship Alchemon and even with my slight reservations about the end I would highly recommend it to any sci-fi fans or people who love the pitfalls of artificial intelligence.