Is space the final frontier, or is it plants? In Starswarm by Jerry Pournelle, it was plants! I’d been a Pournelle fan years ago and was pleased when I found this as an audiobook on Audible. This science fiction book takes place on an Earth colony in space populated with centaurs on the land and an unusual plant in the lakes and oceans. The protagonist is a teen, Kip, that was implanted with a receiver chip in his head so that he could converse with an artificial intelligence (AI) program. His mother had been an AI programmer and implanted the chip when he was an infant, not long before she and his father were murdered. Kip was raised by his father’s most trusted colleague while eluding discovery by those who would want Kip dead too. The evil side of the family murdered Kip’s parents to keep them out of the family business, and if they found Kip, he’d be murdered, too. Kip likes the planet, centaurs, and starswarm plant, so when the evil side of the family chooses to make a profit at the expense of what Kip the planet he loves and the centaurs and starswarm, he decides to fight back. With the help of his AI program, it’s up to him to fight his family and save the world.
What is the metaphysical angle? The starswarm plant near the young man’s home had been studied for years by Earthlings who thought it was just a plant, unaware that the centaurs and the plant communicated through chemicals. Later in the book, the plant is found to be conscious and sentient, raising new possibilities, and consequences for those who did not respect the plant when they thought it was dumb.
Good books make me think, and I enjoyed the questions Starswarm left me to ponder:
- How does a being who communicates vocally communicate with a being that communicates chemically?
- How do you determine if a being is conscious and sentient?
- How can AI programs successfully integrate with the human mind?
This is considered a middle-grade book, so there was no sex, swearing, or gratuitous violence. It encouraged protecting the ecology of the planet, and people were probably more respectful to each other than we would ever see in real life. Pournelle made it interesting for adults, too, and I found this book fun to read. It was light, refreshing, and life-affirming, the perfect relief after reading some heavier materials or a long day at the office.
I was not compensated in any way for this review; I just liked the book!