Braking Day – Adam Oyebanji

One hundred and thirty-two years into its voyage the twenty-kilometre long Archimedes and its sister ships Bohr and Chandrasekhar are preparing to reignite their engines for braking day, now only weeks away, the prelude to the long deceleration as they approach “destination star” Tau Ceti where they have no option but to make their new home regardless of what they find, a one-way trip currently comprising “thirty thousand souls and a gene bank.”

The present generation descendants of the families who originally set out from Earth, among them is Midshipman Ravi MacLeod, an officer in training and fighting against the prejudice against the reputation his surname carries; his father having been sent to the recycler having burned his last bridge with Ship Security, his cousin Roberta “Boz” MacLeod similarly lost both parents yet continues to flout regulations as often as possible even as Ravi tries to progress upwards within the system.

His implants overwhelmed by the influx of new information, at first Ravi thinks his recurring nightmares are a symptom of his brain trying to process his training, but as they persist they become clearer, a message from a girl who appears nowhere on the roster of any ship of the fleet asking for his help even as duties take him to parts of the ship normally off-limits where he notices oddities which indicate what they were taught about the Archimedes and its history is not the entire truth.

The debut novel of Adam Oyebanji, Braking Day is at times a challenging read but is ultimately worth the effort, firmly in the young adult mode with Ravi and Boz, his best friend Vladimir Ansimov and their subversive peers stood against the families which have become entrenched as the officer class over the century since departure, serving as a splendid introduction to hard science fiction for novice readers with the engineering and society of the Archimedes presented in such intricate detail that it sometimes feels as though it gets in the way of moving the plot forwards, though more experienced readers may feel much is overly familiar.

Ravi and Boz almost conditioned to be suspicious of authority, it is apparent that the adults who are supposed to lead them are far from perfect and do not have all the answers, sometimes obviously lying to cover themselves, but frustrating as the rules are they are there for a reason, a disaster three generations back having taken out an entire ring of the ship resulting in the death of a quarter of the population, and underpinning everything is the guiding principal of the mission, that Loosely Organised Kinetic Intelligences, the autonomous robots which came to dominate Earth, are absolutely forbidden.

The rigid social structure recalling The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years of Don Wilcox, Alastair ReynoldsChasm City is echoed in the growing suspicion that there is a fourth “ghost ship” in the flotilla, frozen and haunted by those who died there, floating silently through the void just beyond sensor reach and purged from the record banks, and Thermostellar Bomb 20 of Dark Star and the Minds of Iain M Banks’ Culture could also be seen as influences.

Boz having built a LOKI nicknamed BozBall, it is not the only forbidden artificial intelligence within the fleet, yet despite the dire warnings of history their evolution has progressed in unanticipated directions, some developing loyalty to those they are bound to and not unreasonable, although as might be expected their reasoning does not follow human lines nor support human interests as a primary goal, a bridge Ravi must cross if they are all to survive beyond braking day.

Braking Day is available now from Jo Fletcher Books



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