Book review: Velocity Weapon by Megan E O’Keefe

Velocity Weapon is the first in The Protectorate, a new series by Megan E O’Keefe. Here’s the Amazon summary:

“The last thing Sanda remembers is her gunship exploding. She expected to be recovered by salvage-medics and to awaken in friendly hands, patched-up and ready to rejoin the fight. Instead she wakes up 230 years later, on a deserted enemy starship called The Light of Berossus – or, as he prefers to call himself, ‘Bero’.

“Bero tells Sanda the war is lost. That the entire star system is dead.

“But is that the full story? After all, in the vastness of space, anything is possible . . .”

(For most reviews I try to avoid spoiling as much of the plot as possible. However, in the case of Velocity Weapon, I’m going to have to reveal a particular plot development – so please be aware, SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Velocity Weapon moves along at a decent pace and has a cast of engaging and interesting characters. What begins as a fairly simple “waking up on an enemy ship” plot quickly becomes much more than that. Gunnery Sergeant Sanda Greeve and the ship on which she is captured – formally The Light of Berossus, but known to Sanda as “Bero” – form a tight bond, and O’Keefe initially chooses Sanda as the POV character through which we experience this new universe. Sanda is an interesting character; filled with grief because she is the last survivor of her planet and her bloodline. Bero begins as a fairly stock AI-starship, but soon emerges as something else. When another survivor is found in the star system in which Bero recovered Sanda, things become very interesting. 

You may or may not see the central “twist” of the plot coming. I did, but that’s not to say it is predictable. In short, Bero has been lying to Sanda. She isn’t the last survivor at all; but Zero wants to use her to further his own goals (and to have a friend). Much of what Bero has told Sanda is inaccurate. O’Keefe neatly toys with the expectations of the average SF reader and plays on the assumption that AIs are likely to be dependable and reliable narrators of fact. It soon becomes apparent that Bero is neither of those things. The ship’s decision to identify as a “male” and make his own decisions demonstrates that Bero is not a passive element in this story; he has his  agenda and becomes a central drive for the wider plot Sanda finds herself entangled in. O’Keefe’s depiction of an AI with individual goals and a fallible personality is refreshing. By the end of the novel, I felt considerable sympathy for Bero. However, that is slightly soured by Bero’s late decision to abandon Sanda. I wasn’t quite sure whether I’d misunderstood this choice, and maybe I was being too hard on “Big B” (Sanda’s nickname for the ship!) but it did undermine the relationship between these two characters. 

O’Keefe’s prose is tight and highly readable, tending to avoid dense SF description and extrapolation. There are a few chapters in which we are thrown back to the formation of Prime’s technology that – at this point – felt a little bolted on, but I suspect we will hear more about this in future books. It’s certainly no bad thing that O’Keefe has left some secrets unexplained.  

I highly recommend Velocity Weapon. This is very enjoyable and easily accessible SF, and I’m certainly signed up for the next instalment in the series.

 

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