Artificial Intelligence. Religious Faith. Prejudice. Conflict.
I had a mixed reaction to Fool’s War by Sarah Zettel. On one hand, it has some really interesting ideas, many of which work well. On the other hand, I was left feeling like something was missing.
Briefly, Al Shei owns a spaceship, that transports cargo, as a kind of timeshare with her brother-in-law, a man of questionable character. Al Shei hopes that eventually the money she makes will be able to buy a dream spaceship for her much loved husband and her children. When Al Shei has her turn, she finds that her uncle has hired a Fool for this trip. Fools are highly respected individuals who “were entertainers, confidants, clowns (and) functioned as pressure valves for long trips and cramped quarters.” Al Shei also finds out that her brother-in-law has left a package on the ship. When things begin to go dramatically wrong, Al Shei desperately tries to find out more about the package. Eventually, Al Shei and her crew uncover a plot that could cause an unprecedented war.
Fool’s War has a number of strong points. For the most part, Al Shei as a character works for me. She is portrayed as a devout Muslim woman, but she is also a shrewd employer and a loving wife. At the end, she is a woman who must reconcile conflicting parts of herself. For the most part, I liked how Zettel dealt with Artificial Intelligence. She made an interesting conjecture on how an AI could become sentient. She also did a good job at describing the many action scenes where an AI is in the Net. Some of the scenes portray conflict, but others portray the love and caring of AI’s for one another.
Some ideas could have been developed more. There were some relationships between the crewmembers that could have been more fully explored. If the book had been part of a series, I would have loved the idea of the Fools to have been uncovered very slowly. The cadence felt wrong to me. It felt like the plotline launched into the conflict too early and stayed there too long. I needed more plateaus, where I could just breathe and soak in the characters.
All and all, I’m glad that I read this book.