cover image Dreamships


Melissa Scott. Tor Books, $21.95 (342pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85153-8

Scott ( Mighty Good Road ) puts a slightly different spin on the SF staples (and present-day impossibilities) of faster-than-light (FTL) travel and artificial intelligence (AI); the former is part of the novel's well-thought-out future atmosphere, and the latter is the focus of the plot. The ``Drive'' that sends the novel's protagonists into an alternate space (thus allowing for FTL travel) translates that space into a virtual reality landscape of the pilot's choice. Scott's future world is on the brink of achieving AI, and Scott deals with the political and social ramifications of this. Reverdy Jian, a freelance pilot, and her partners, Imre Vaughn and ``Red,'' are hired to fly to a planet called Refuge to find their employer's brother. Manfred, the computer that aids their flight, appears to be AI, and their return from Refuge brings about a tremendous controversy--if Manfred is sentient, the question arises: Do AIs have the same rights as humans? The plot itself is fairly thin, and could not fill out a 350-page hardcover on its own. Scott's solution is to pad it with the aforementioned atmosphere, which is forgivable because it is so well done. This postulated future is convincing, just different enough from our own to pique the reader's curiosity. (June)