Out in the darkness of space, something is targeting the Greatships.
With their vast cargo holds and a crew that could fill a city, the Greatships are the lifeblood of human occupied space, transporting an unimaginable volume – and value – of goods from City, the greatest human orbital, all the way to Tradepoint at the other, to trade for xenoglas with an unknowable alien species.
It has always been Marca Nbaro’s dream to achieve the near-impossible: escape her upbringing and venture into space.
All it took, to make her way onto the crew of the Greatship Athens was thousands of hours in simulators, dedication, and pawning or selling every scrap of her old life in order to forge a new one. But though she’s made her way onboard with faked papers, leaving her old life – and scandals – behind isn’t so easy.
She may have just combined all the dangers of her former life, with all the perils of the new . . .
Marca Nbaro grew up on City, “the greatest orbital in Human Space.” Her life up until this point has been traumatic, to say the least, growing up in City’s Orphanage as a ward of the state, a place for kids orphaned by their parents who died in service and we fast learn that it’s being run by a crook who gives them the bare minimum. Nbaro is able to escape by the skin of her teeth, though she has angered somebody very powerful and it’s her hope that out in space, they can’t get to her. And so she gets onto the greatship Athens, one of 9 magnificent and very old spacefaring vessels that exist to ensure the mercantile nature of the DHC can continue, particularly with its most important cargo: xenoglas, a mysterious and highly valuable material traded with the only other aliens that humans have come into contact with, the Starfish, a non-bipedal squid-like species that live in ammonia-rich atmospheres who nobody has ever communicated with.
At first glance, I assumed Mile Cameron’s Artifact Space would be about a stowaway trying to flee her past life while trying to remain undetected among the lower tiers of the spacecraft, but ultimately becoming a part of the ship’s ecosystem as pirates or a mysterious alien race threatened their existence, and while I was wrong with my assumptions, as I often am, I wasn’t disappointed with what the story did provide.
Nbaro is a black woman dealing with her past trauma as she pretty much tries to “fake it ’til she makes it” on the Athens, and very quickly is taken back by how welcoming and kind the crew really are. She’s used to being surrounded by dirtbags. In fact, her skipper, Trueknor, tells her that she is part of the Athens now, so long as she gets to work and does as she’s told. The crew itself is militaristic, and Nbaro understands that. We get the joy of watching her grow from this frightened, downtrodden girl who escaped the Orphanage and always felt the need to watch her back, to a smart and confident woman able to lead. In doing so, she finds her family among the crew of the greatship and her friendships with them all were for sure my favourite thing in this book.
I did have a few issues with Artifact Space, however, I will admit that I’m unsure if some of this is my relevant newness to the science fiction genre, especially as a reader. Case in point, the first few pages were like torture for me and I couldn’t tell you if I was struggling because I’m just generally not used to “sci-fi jargon” or if some of the terms could have been explained a little better. My husband informed me it was worldbuilding to get you into the mindset of the world and that’s something I can certainly get behind. Regardless, it was only the first few pages before I was hooked, even if some of the quantum physics (and other such things) descriptions went way over my head. I still barely understand how ‘insertion’ (this book’s term for ‘hyperspace jumps’) works, but it’s okay.
However, there are a lot of pages wherein Nbaro is learning things and going through the motions that felt a little lethargic. I felt these could have been condensed somewhat, though they were not a deal-breaker for me because when characters interacted and the action happens, Artifact Space really shines.
I loved how much “life on the ship” there was throughout the book. You get a lot of time to know the characters and see the bonds forming between them, and understand why the greatships are so important. So when things begin heating up, and believe me they sure do, you understand the stakes and heck, there were moments in the story that brought me to tears. That is really rare for me. All I want is to spend more time with these characters!
The book also handles LGBTQ+ people pretty well, in my opinion. People are gay or asexual and it gets just as much attention as the straight people get. There are also “androgynes”, who are androgynous people, as you may be able to guess. I was a little bit confused over whether they were born as a result of living upon the orbitals within Human Space or if it’s part of the gender spectrum as we know it, but either way, it was neat to see a lot of gender-neutral language for a few of the characters.
If you pick up Artifact Space by Miles Cameron, expect a lot of subterfuge and unknown forces working from all angles, as well as an interesting look at capitalism and class divisions from the perspective of people around 700-800 years in our future. Or, just a really neat space opera story about merchants working hard and working together to make sure they don’t get destroyed.
Reading this book, I’ve learned that Miles Cameron is a great storyteller with some fantastic worldbuilding chops, and I can’t wait to read the follow-up and get into his fantasy books.
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