Providence by Max Barry (Book Review)

Providence-by-Max-Barry - Cover
Book Blurb: From the ingenious author of Jennifer Government and Lexicon: a brilliant work of science fiction that tells the intimate tale of four people facing their most desperate hour—alone, together, at the edge of the universe.

The video changed everything. Before that, we could believe that we were safe. Special. Chosen. We thought the universe was a twinkling ocean of opportunity, waiting to be explored.

Afterward, we knew better.

Seven years after first contact, Providence Five launches. It is an enormous and deadly warship, built to protect humanity from its greatest ever threat. On board is a crew of just four—tasked with monitoring the ship and reporting the war’s progress to a mesmerized global audience by way of social media.

But while pursuing the enemy across space, Gilly, Talia, Anders, and Jackson confront the unthinkable: their communications are cut, their ship decreasingly trustworthy and effective. To survive, they must win a fight that is suddenly and terrifyingly real.

Tags: Sci-fi, Space, Adventure, Character-driven, Thought-provoking, Artificial Intelligence, Aliens

Publication Date: 31st March, 2020

My thoughts banner

(I received a free copy of this book, thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Edelweiss, in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinions on the book.)

Wow. I finished this book in less than a day. The last time I read something that engaged and provoked my mind was when I read Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Now, while this book isn’t as mind-twisting as Crouch’s story of alternate-realities, it sure poses many questions that sparks off branching thoughts. For e.g., manipulating a situation to gain an intended result, how much makes it not right? Is it ok to manipulate people and interactions if it’s for the better good of a whole group?

There’s a lot of grey area discussed in this book. It shows you that there can be two opinions and they can both be right. The AI in Providence is portrayed as a highly advanced machine that works with a frightful amount of data, producing ‘decisions better optimized and nuanced than any human could manage’. Now, this was mentioned in the engineer’s POV, so it’s biased, but ‘better’ is a supremely relative term. Take i, Robot, for example. (this isnt a big spoiler for that movie, just a background event for the main character, Del Spooner) In one scene, Del get’s into a car accident and is trapped in a drowning car. There’s a little girl in another sinking car beside his. When a robot comes to the rescue it realizes that it can only save one person. Del points it to the girl, deciding to forego his life, but the robot makes a calculated decision based on their survival rate and chooses Del instead because he had a higher chance of survival.

We try to optimize every aspect of our life, from the best education to the best car to the best partner. But when we make decisions we have to take into account our values and morals as well, not just your own goals. AIs don’t have that except the orders that they’ve been primed with by their creators. And when such an incident like the one with Del happens, can you really blame them? Do we have the right to resent them?

There’s an incident in Providence that spurs you onto this question and I loved it when I came to that conclusion. That’s the wonderful thing about Max Barry’s story, he doesn’t lay everything out. He gives you a prompt and it’s up to you what you make of it. There’s plenty of fodder for a buzzing and intelligent discussion.

One other aspect that I enjoyed in this book was how Barry slightly upended some well-worn tropes. On the surface this seemed like your typical humans-shoot-the-crap-outta-scary-aliens space story but he gives each one a slight twist to make it a little bit more fresh. If you’re in for pure gore and non-stop action, this isn’t it. There’s a lot of inner-monologue and downtime, and is essentially a character-driven story.

I’m not going to list out every single thought I had or I’d end up writing a novella!

Providence has some minor downsides, like how you might not like the characters at first, how insular it felt at times(although, that is the premise), and having guessed at tiny elements to the plot. But there were so many good things that I didn’t really care. What book is a 100% perfect anyway? There was even a tiny bit of humour in this. And oh, I teared up at one point.

If I had to sum this book’s main theme, it’d be ‘Both of you could be right’. There’s a lot of grey area and opportunities for broadening your mind.

Trying to make a review for this book is HARD. My mind keeps going off on new tangents and I had to rein them in. I have to admit, Providence lacks the element of intrigue found in Dark Matter, so it’s story setting might be a little colder for some.

I thoroughly relish clever stories like this, and would love to check out more of Max Barry’s works.

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Parental Guidance: 13+
Violence – Moderate. A little bit of gore and some violent images.
Sex – Some references. One instance of nudity.
Religion – None mentioned
Profanity – Plenty

Recommended for: Readers who enjoy stories that inspire questions and thoughts on sentience, philosophy, human existence, and ethics. And if you don’t mind character-driven adventure stories with a slower pace in the first half.

11 thoughts on “Providence by Max Barry (Book Review)

Add yours

  1. Great review, Phantom – you do like your Sci-F-, don’t you????!!! Sounds intriguing. Reminds me a bit of the Culture novels written by Iain M. Banks which are basically the last sci-fi novels I read which was years ago. LOL! I think he started the craze for intelligent ships (though I might be wrong about that). My only concern with your review is that you say no book is 100% perfect. This can’t be right coz my books are 100% perfect…LOL!!! I’ll tell my older sister about this book. She likes her sci-fi. Hope you are okay, Phantom, and keeping safe!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😆 Hahaha, I can always count on you to make me smile! Thanks a lot for your steadfast support 😄 Sci-fi happens to be my favorite genre(although I love the slow-burn romance trope equally!) You never told me you had a sister! And yes, I’m getting by 😊 I do hope you and your family are safe. Keep up your immune system!

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  2. I like the idea of exploring both angles and still making them BOTH seem just as good as the other. That sure does make you wonder what’s good and bad in the end. I also like the mention of the “I, Robot” movie. Have you ever tried Isaac Asimov’s book on which the movie was “based” on? Great review nonetheless! Thanks for sharing! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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