The Machine Awakes is set in the same universe as Adam Christopher’s novel The Burning Dark, but this isn’t a continuation of that story. The Machine Awakes has completely different characters and instead of deep space, it is set in the heart of the Fleet back on Earth, where conspiracies are at the forefront, as the war with the Spiders rages on in the background. The Burning Dark could definitely be classed as a dark space opera, this novel is more of a crime thriller in a space setting.
The book centres on two main characters, Von Kodiak and Caitlin, two very different types of people who are on their own journeys to solve a conspiracy deep within the Fleet. Von Kodiak is a high ranking agent of the Fleet Bureau of Investigation. As you may have guessed the FBI deals with the Fleet’s internal matters and is not a branch of the actual military. Von Kodiak had been on a long standing undercover mission when he is recalled to Earth to help solve a military assassination. Von Kodiak is very capable, as well as logical when it comes to dealing with facts and extrapolating data, but is happy to bend the rules if necessary.
Caitlin on the other hand is a trainee psi-marine, who has consistently scored highly with her psychic talents so that eventually she would become part of an elite team of psi-marines. After finding out that her twin brother (already a psi-marine), who was killed in action on a war world, may not actually be dead she runs away from her training to try and find out if her brother is actually alive. Caitlin feels like her psi talent is uncontrollable and she doesn’t believe that she is capable of ever being in control of it. Caitlin’s talent also makes her a target for unknown factions, who hope to use her as a tool for their own machinations. It is easy to question whether Caitlin is losing her sanity as she hears voices in her head. Is one of these voices her brother or is it just her imagination hoping for something that is highly unlikely?
Caitlin and Von Kodiak’s paths eventually cross as they both try to solve the mysteries set before them. As Von Kodiak narrows down the list of groups that have a grudge against the Fleet, he has to work against a backdrop of suspicion. Von Kodiak is not even sure if he can trust the people who work within the Bureau let alone who is withholding information within the Fleet. Von Kodiak’s boss Commander Avalon knows that she can count on Von Kodiak to get to the truth, but her hands are effectively tied by bureaucracy to be able do more than support his actions.
What are the end goals for those aligned against the Fleet? Are they religious fanatics or megalomaniacs looking to gain control of this part of the universe? Are they even considering the consequences of their actions? With the characters unable to know who to trust and who is pulling their strings, The Machine Awakes can be a frustrating read. There was a part of me that hoped that there might be more connections with The Burning Dark, such as further interference from subspace.
The Machine Awakes has a lot of plot and misdirection, and in certain places can be very wordy, this can make it feel like a much longer read than it actually should be. After the events at the start of the story, there was a long time where I was just waiting for something to happen. Both the Bureau and Caitlin go round in circles, either chasing or running away from leads. Eventually both stories collide into each other and we are back on what feels like a roller coaster hurling us to the end of the book. Throughout the book, although bad things happen to these characters, especially in Caitlin’s case, none of the characters ever seemed like they were in too much peril. Once we reach the last part of the book it was much more of a compelling read as it tied up loose ends. There were some enjoyable moments to The Machine Awakes and I found that the characters do grow on you as the story progresses but there were many times that the story dragged and I didn’t feel as engaged as I should have been.
Review by Michelle Herbert
Adam Christopher was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and grew up watching Pertwee-era Doctor Who and listening to The Beatles, which isn't a bad start for a child of the 80s. In 2006, Adam moved to the sunny North West of [...]
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