by Patrick Tomlinson
Two hundred years ago, the Ark set off into space with its human cargo, leaving a doomed Earth behind. Now, centuries later, the Ark is nearing its destination: a new world where humanity can begin again. Every bit of energy and attention is focused on the approaching day of the Flip, but when police chief Brian Benson stumbles upon a suspicious death, no matter how much political pressure he gets to treat the case as an accident, he simply can't let go.
I immediately found myself engaged by the world of The Ark. With all of humanity reduced to a single shipload, the crew of the Ark instituted strict controls on almost every aspect of life. Waste and failure to recycle is a serious crime. Normal pregnancy is forbidden and surgically prevented, and each child born through the Ark-approved technology has a "plant" immediately installed that covers the full surface of the frontal lobe. While the plant provides instant access to technology and full connectivity, it also enforces complete control over the citizens of the Ark. Passengers, called "cattle" by the crew, are disdained by and segregated from the crew. Passengers spend their time working to maintain their habitats and invest their enthusiasm and competitiveness in the gravity-free game of Zero.
While the worldbuilding was definitely interesting, in an odd way, I don't think the characters really exist enough in the reality created for them. For one thing, they know far too much about their past, and tend to think in terms of comparisons between the past and their present. While this is certainly helpful for the reader in explaining the worldbuilding, it didn't do much to make the characters feel grounded in their reality. For example, they use phrases like "check, please," even though physical paper disappeared centuries ago, even though no one has eaten real meat in the past 200 years, they remember that Hindus venerate cows and won't eat beef and recognize the appearance and taste of meat. They accept using a disgusting mouthwash because it's better than a trip to the dentist, even though dentists have vanished into distant memory. Even though we're told that nationalism was effectively forgotten in the first few years aboard the Ark, people still characterize themselves in terms of their ethnicities and national origins. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed the few flights of fancy that broke out of the contemporary mindset, such as the tour of art through the ages that included artists such as the leader of the Reclamation Movement who died in 2059 or the "seminal work" of the museum, which was created after the earth was known to be in peril. There is also a thoroughly amusing take on literal tin-hat paranoia.
Much of the story is told through breezy dialogue laced with humor, and the plot is full of action and adventure. While l never really warmed to Benson, he didn't annoy me much, either. Perhaps the weakest character for me was Theresa, Benson's love interest. While we're told she's competent and capable, she mostly exists as Benson's sounding board, cheerleader, and comic foil. My favourite character was the spunky elderly museum curator whose whiplash tongue is feared even by the Ark's highest authorities.
The story effortlessly carried me to the end. The final outcome is satisfying, and while I'm not sure I agree with the characters' conclusions, it definitely left some food for thought. If you're looking for a lighthearted scifi adventure, the Ark may fit the bill.
~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Angry Robot Books, in exchange for my honest review.~~