Far from the Spaceports by Richard Abbott is the first in what promises to be a series of science fiction novels following Mitnash Thakur, a financial fraud investigator, and his artificially intelligent companion Slate.
Mitnash works for the ECRB (Economic Crime Review Board), an organisation that investigates financial irregularities throughout the solar system.
The ECRB has noticed a large financial irregularity, and its origins are thought to be in the Scilly Isles, a collection of asteroids situated well beyond the orbit of Mars.
Mitnash and Slate are sent to investigate.
Mitnash is somewhat of an expert coder, and in a future where coders have the ability to control most technologies, and hacking is commonplace, he uses his credentials to go undercover and infiltrate the Scilly Isles community. He encounters a diverse group of human settlers, but being in such an isolated location, must learn quickly who he can and cannot trust.
He and Slate must work fast too. If the ECRB suspicions are correct, and the Scilly Isles are being used as the base for such large scale fraud, the reputation of the islands could be under threat...
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that Richard is a friend, and I have collaborated with him to create the cover artwork for some of his books, this one included.
However, as Richard usually writes in the historical fiction genre, which isn't my cup of tea, I've not previously read any of his work.
Science fiction is a different matter though, and I felt compelled, intrigued and obliged to begin reading.
Far from the Spaceports is set in the (near) future, although the exact time frame is never mentioned. The story contains examples of lots of believable futuristic technology, many examples of which I have no doubt will become commonplace in most homes and offices in the coming decades.
Take Slate for instance. Slate is not a robot or any other type of physical being, but rather an AI persona that can be hosted on any available computer system. Slate can communicate with Mitnash using voice commands or via a cochlea implant that is capable of interpreting his thoughts, sub-vocally. Slate has its own personality and comes across as very human, as do the other AI personas encountered. As well as performing everyday mundane tasks such controlling habitat settings, managing communications or navigating a spacecraft, whenever Mitnash needs advice (or doesn't) he can rely on Slate to proffer it.
For those with iPhones, I guess you could think of Slate as Siri on steroids!
If you're expecting battles in outer space with lots of things being blasted and blown up then you'll be disappointed. Far from the Spaceports is a futuristic crime thriller. A science fiction whodunnit if you will.
The story is split into four logical parts, with each part being split further into smaller sized chunks that make the book really easy to consume. The narrative really does zip along and I found myself reading for much longer stints than I’d originally planned.
Throughout the book, Mitnash and Slate are developed into characters you really care for - and want to learn more about. The dialogue between all of the characters is very good, and comes across as natural, and never seems forced. I also found the story very interesting, with a strong plot, which although set in space, has a grounding in the real world.
Far from the Spaceports isn’t like the usual type of sci-fi fare I read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m glad to say that I can’t wait for the next one in the series...