Providence is such a blast you almost overlook just how clever it is. Like Starship Troopers crossed with 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s about the limits of human intelligence, the nature of our humanity and the price we’re willing to pay for the survival of the species.
And guns. Lots of guns.
Beanfield is an Instagram-obsessed airhead. Anders is a psychopath. Gilly is a nerd. Jackson, the captain, is a stuffed shirt. Or so you think. All four will reveal their full and saving humanity, to each other and to the reader, even as they and we must accept that they will achieve precisely nothing in 300-odd pages; their presence in this smarter-than-human spaceship is entirely pointless as it pursues its own, undeniably effective programme of action against a race of nasty but hapless insectoid aliens. Max Barry has a true comic writer’s pessimism, imprisoning his ever-more-cherishable crew in a ship as indifferent and unreadable as any alien enemy.
Max Barry’s Providence (Hodder and Stoughton, RRP£16.99) sees the four-strong crew of an AI-controlled spaceship shot into deep space to take part in a war against a reptilian extraterrestrial species nicknamed salamanders. Claustrophobia and isolation lead to tensions on board, while the ship itself, almost godlike in its indifference to the people within, pursues its mission regardless. The result is a quirky, character-driven commentary on the mechanisation of conflict and the sheer perversity of human nature.