Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

Read July 2022
Recommended for fans of space flight
★   ★   ★   ★

Hey, guess what? It turns out I can still read overly long books and enjoy them! I mean, it’s not that amazing–I did read Doors of Eden, right? But that was about a year ago, so it was actually a relief to realize this this ridiculously long space adventure was entertaining me every time I picked it up.

Artifact Space is an old-fashioned, Mary-Sue orphan-makes-good, updated for modern times. And you know what? I’m totally on board with that. How updated? Updated enough that a line like this made sense:

“It was very old-fashioned and bi-gendered, but in a romantic way, not a gender bias way – or perhaps its very antiquity caused her to forgive it.”

Anyway, we first meet said orphan, Marca Nbaro, as she is masquerading as a new recruit on one of the few Greatships, a giant ship capable of traveling between stars that functions as a highly-protected trading ship. It is a great way to introduce a potential Mary Sue, giving them a bit of rule-bending grit to contrast the ethical sweetness.

“Most people can live without booze,’ Marca said. ‘But no one can go an hour without a rationalisation.”

The story follows Marca and her adventures on the Greatship Athens. Cameron deftly begins with small, personal-level conflicts and gradually weaves in more ominous threads from deep state conspiracies to alien negotiations to the challenges of delayed communications in space. The Greatships are part AI and it’s interesting to see how Cameron integrates both the potential benefits and weaknesses in warfare. This one has a penchant for appearing as a human petting a cat, and I honestly could not stop thinking of a Bond villain:

“A light went on over the co-pilot’s couch, and there, stretched full length, was a tall, skinny man with long, curly dark hair and a scarlet flightsuit. His nose was his most obvious feature, and if his appearance wasn’t enough to cause her to flinch, he had a cat on his chest. Nbaro could almost see through him, and gradually came to realise he was a holographic projection.”

I suspect a little joking on Cameron’s part; much of the story feels serious, but like the AI’s hologram, there will be fun nods to tropes, humorous asides, or even reoccurring quests like obtaining cake from the officers’ mess for friends.

Smith nodded. ‘Thanks.’ He tried on a smile, didn’t like it, and traded it for a more believable facial expression.

My recommendation comes with three caveats: one, you have to be okay with a seriously heroic protagonist. I know; it’s the age of flawed heroism (which could be precisely why it works).

“Gunny says you saved everyone’s ass … or maybe you’re too wet behind the ears to know what you’re doing.’ Akunje’s grin was huge and infectious.
‘Yep,’ Marca said. ‘At least one of those things is definitely true.”

Two, there’s a definite military flavor throughout the book. It is, after all, a navy, and there are legitimate space battles. There’s also detailed bits about flight paths and trajectories that I largely ignored. One of my friends noted Cameron had a tendency to go on about armor in one of his other books. So you probably have to either have a tolerance for armor and battle specifics, or the ability to read past. Guess which I did?

Third, and this would sometimes be a dealbreaker, but because of the sheer length and adventureness of the book as a whole, totally wasn’t. Anyway, there’s a Grand Canyon-level cliffhanger ending. Who knows when the next one is coming out? Not me.

I thought it was all completely worth it, because it’s hard to find enjoyable, semi-realistic, fun sci-fi these days with cool women protagonists (hint: if the author describes the hero’s violet eyes, it’s probably not about the sci-fi). And, it gives me a reason to read it again before the next installment comes out.