SENTIENT is a Decent Setup Using Old Tropes

Take one part of Alien, and one part Lord of the Flies, maybe a pinch of the anti-white virtue signaling, and you have the spine of Sentient by Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Walta.

Lemire delivers a story — or rather, the beginning of a story — about a colony ship that falls victim to a mutiny as soon as it’s in an area of space where communication with both Earth and the new colony are severed. The artificial intelligence on the USS Montgomery, designated Valerie, has to become the grown-up when all of the adults are killed, leaving only a handful of children as survivors. Valerie has to teach the children how to operate the ship, which is a story element that gets glossed over fairly quickly in favor of the overall story.

The artwork, starting with cover, is very evocative of Heavy Metal magazine. Gabriel Walta’s art is a little rough for my taste, but it wasn’t distracting to the point where I didn’t enjoy the book. The violence depicted in the art is not quite too gratuitous, but there are places where perspective is a little dicey.

The tropes are very much in evidence with this book. And it’s not lost on me that the entire crew seems to be as diverse as possible, while the villain of the piece is blonde, blue-eyed, and white with a very particular haircut. I don’t think that’s an accident.

The background of the story is that there’s political unrest on Earth, and it seems to have spread to the new colony, with a group called the Separatists wanting to isolate the colony from Earth’s government. It’s not clear yet which faction is in the right, because so far all we’ve seen are representatives of the Separatist movement, and they don’t seem to be too evil, nor do they seem to be entirely altruistic. Their AI, Victor, reminds me very much of HAL 9000 after his aneurysm in 2001: A Space Odyssey. And while Valerie seems to be concerned only with protecting the children, the end of the book leaves me wondering if she’s going to become a danger to the colony at some point in the future.

This story had a lot of potential to show us something we haven’t seen before. Instead, we get the “this is for your own good” terrorist, the deranged stranger left alone on the space station, and the lunatic robot. We also get the predictable strife between our two lead characters, Lil and Isaac, whose mother killed the rest of the grown-ups. That arc plays out pretty much as you would expect, because none of this is anything new. And this is not for kids. There are f-bombs a-plenty.

Overall, it’s not a bad read, if a little predictable. It’s clearly just the opening act, although I was disappointed that the story doesn’t take more time to examine the culture that could develop on the ship when it’s just a bunch of kids trying to make their way through space. Lots of story potential to mine there, but the opportunity is lost in the rush to get to the next piece of the story.

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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