Very Quick Review: PROVIDENCE by Max Barry (Putnam)

BarryM-ProvidenceUSHCThe highly-anticipated return of Max Barry!

Gilly, Talia, Anders, and Jackson are astronauts captaining a new and supposedly indestructible ship in humanity’s war against an alien race. Confined to the ship for years, each of them holding their own secrets, they are about to learn there are threats beyond the reach of human ingenuity–and that the true nature of reality might be the universe’s greatest mystery.

In this near future, our world is at war with another, and humanity is haunted by its one catastrophic loss–a nightmarish engagement that left a handful of survivors drifting home through space, wracked with PTSD. Public support for the war plummeted, and the military-industrial complex set its sights on a new goal: zero-casualty warfare, made possible by gleaming new ships called Providences, powered by AI.

But when the latest-launched Providence suffers a surprising attack and contact with home is severed, Gilly, Talia, Anders, and Jackson must confront the truth of the war they’re fighting, the ship that brought them there, and the cosmos beyond.

Back in 2013, I read and very much enjoyed Max Barry’s Lexicon. Then everything went quiet… This year, though, the author returns with Providence: an interesting and engaging sci-fi thriller. I quite enjoyed this.

Providence is an interesting novel. The first 2/3 or so was a tense, sometimes claustrophobic novel about the psychological effects of being on a long-distance, long-term space mission with minimal crew.

We get to know the characters quite well. Talia, Gilly, Jolene and Anders are a bit of a mismatched bunch, with their own reasons for choosing to go on the journey. There isn’t much they need to do beyond monitor the incredible capabilities of the mostly-autonomous Providence. Life on the ship gets a bit tedious, and slowly the crew become a little unhinged.

The final act of the novel saw the story take quite a turn. It changed from a slow-burning on-board psychological study to a sci-fi disaster/survival story. It also felt a little bit rushed. The switch wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, and it also meant much of what we’d been reading up until then felt a little bit… well, unnecessary. Maybe if a little more time had been sent on the disaster/survival part of the story this would have felt more balanced.

Barry’s writing is excellent throughout, and he does a great job of bringing the characters to life on the ship. His imagination is rich, too, and the salamanders are an intriguing science fictional creation. Their otherness is very well written, and you get the sense that they truly are a threat. Barry doesn’t attempt to make the two races friends, or ultimately come together. They are just too different, with too different needs and wants.

A cautious recommendation, then, with the caveat that I much preferred the first aspect of the story than the second (which just didn’t have as much to it).


Max Barry’s Providence is due to be published next week by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in North America, and Hodder & Stoughton in the UK.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via Edelweiss

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