Verdict: Thoroughly enjoyable hard SF

ROBOTEER’s backdrop is a war between two human factions: the Earthers and the Galateans. The Earthers are presented as religious fanatics, driven to war with the Galateans as a result of the latter’s practice of human modification (labelling them “genetic fascists” and “capitalists”). Will Monet is a Galatean “roboteer” – a human modified to engage with machines and remotely control them. Will is assigned to the soft-combat ship Ariel, and sent on a mission deep into Earther territory. The Earthers have developed a weapon called a “suntap” which threatens to end the war with Galatea in a spectacular fashion. Where did this new technology come from? The Earthers have evidence of an ancient alien civilisation, something which the Prophet will do anything to repress…

ROBOTEER is a compelling and engaging read. This is Alex Lamb’s debut novel, and his passion of the subject matter shines through on the page. Lamb was a scientist before he became a full-time author, and the combination of both roles suits him well. He effortlessly explains complex scientific concepts with lean and effective prose, whilst driving on the plot. In lots of ways, ROBOTEER reminded me of classic SF works from the likes of Asimov and Clarke. The sense of adventure and handling of high-concept is very much in that vein.

Where the book probably deviates from the more classic template is the handling of character. Lamb does this well. He pays particular attention to the “hero character” Will, likening his ability as a roboteer to a high-functioning autistic and I can see how his engagement with machines is made more effective as a result of this condition. At the outset of ROBOTEER Will is presented as almost machine-like in his approach to life; understanding machines far better than he does other humans. But Will develops as a character through the course of the book, and his relationship with fellow traveller Rachel leads to him becoming more human as the book progresses.

I should also say something about Lamb’s treatment of alien races in ROBOTEER. The main alien race is referred to as “the Transcended”, and they are responsible for the suntap. Their introduction is quite sudden, which is shocking for both the reader and Lamb’s characters. Will, as a roboteer, becomes the perfect conduit for the alien-mind: becoming their mouthpiece, and simultaneously finding himself tested by them. This was an interesting way to reveal the existence and motives of a superior alien race. Will himself remains sceptical of the aliens’ motives, and his crew even more so. I thought this was very well-handled. Other species are also introduced, broadening the ROBOTEER universe, but this is done skilfully and without overburdening the reader with detail.

I really enjoyed ROBOTEER. There’s already a sequel, called NEMESIS, which I will definitely be picking up.

Alex Lamb is going to be a guest panelist at Nine Worlds Convention next weekend! Held in Hammersmith, London, there will be loads of special guests including James Smythe, Jason Arnopp, Rob Boffard, Mike Brooks and many others. I will also be there, which is very exciting. More info here