Pros: Interesting story and characters; intriguing worldbuilding
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Dennis E. Taylor’s The Singularity Trap is an intriguing and creative take on the alien first contact story. Ivan Pritchard has signed onto the Mad Astra, an asteroid mining ship, as a last-ditch attempt to make some money to support his wife and children. While out searching their claim, they find a mysterious alien artifact, and Ivan makes contact with it. This may well be the end of Ivan’s life as he knows it–soon his body starts changing, and he and the crew of the ship are placed in quarantine. It’s only a matter of time before the military gets involved, and they tend to view things in a rather black-and-white manner.
I just have one small complaint. Later on in the story, the mysterious computer Ivan makes contact with is described and portrayed as having “no conscience, no emotion”–but early on in contact, Ivan absolutely feels emotions coming from it. Luckily this is the only inconsistency I noticed.
I love the characters. Ivan is such a relatable protagonist that I found myself, like him, almost caring more about whether his wife and children got the money from his stake in the mining claim than I did about whether Ivan himself made it through the experience. His fellow miners and ship crew don’t fall entirely to either end of the spectrum when Ivan starts to change: some don’t want to be involved, while others worry for their new friend. The details of how the ship’s captain and crew try to retain some control over events are creative and interesting. Also, while the military of course has to think in terms of possible threat neutralization, they aren’t wholly antagonistic, particularly as time goes on. I particularly liked Ivan, his crew, and the doctor in charge of the quarantine–they all had plenty of depth to them.
I don’t want to go into too much spoileriffic detail on the situation Ivan finds himself in, so I’ll just say that the setup is quite detailed and interesting. Ivan’s plans get quite convoluted, and his fellow crew find themselves racing to keep up. The worldbuilding is also quite good–climate change has done a number on conditions on Earth, leaving a lot of people rather desperate–hence Ivan’s switch to a mining job even though he was trained as a computer scientist. The speculation as to what path the humans might be on is quite fascinating. Ultimately it’s really the characters that made this story shine for me.