Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Review: MACHINA from Serial Box

Machina graphic
Machina, the latest serial from Serial Box takes two of my favourite things, AI and space exploration, and combines them into a thrilling narrative that captivates from the very start.

Written by Fran Wilde, Malka Older, Curtis C. Chen and Martha Wells, Machina features ecological collapse. egocentric CTOs, ruined friendships, a high-stakes AI competition and weaponised artificial intelligence - and that's just in the first episode!

With Earth becoming increasingly uninhabitable, humanity looks to space for salvation. In the arid California desert, two companies compete for the opportunity to send their AI robots to colonize Mars. Scientists and staff mingle at Moonshot Bar and, as personal tensions build and business practices get shady, there might be more than scientific discovery at stake.

Initially Machina focuses largely on the competition between DevLok and Watchover as their respective teams compete to develop the AI which will pave the way for human colinisation of Mars. Taking two very different approaches, both in design philosophy and management styles, the rivalry between the two companies spill over into the relationships and interactions of their employees. There’s an unpleasant history locked away in the past, but the ramifications of that event is still the driving force behind the different routes the characters take..

All the characters are engaging and distinct. Some you will love to hate, others will make your heart crumble to bits. The standout character for me was Cameron, one of the best representations of a non-binary character I’ve come across. They just steal the show with their touching budding relationship, how they cope despite their struggles with anxiety and just their overall pure awesomeness. An honourable mention also has to go to Pseudo, the robotic dog/bartender at the Moonshot Bar. Who would have guessed so much personality could be given to a robotic dog?

Told in ten episodes each episode is largely self-contained, with the overarching story building up to a truly nail-biting finale in the last two episodes. With only 30 pages left, I didn’t want it to end. Things suddenly got really interesting, morphing into something far greater and impactful than I ever expected. The ending is superb and hints at so much potential yet to come. I sincerely hope they take us on the journey to Mars and whatever awaits us there.

Machina deals with some fascinating concepts - surveillance and privacy (let’s just say Watchover’s name might be a tad too prophetic!), sentience, ecological custodianship and our increasing reliance and use of AI.

Machina is an absolutely gripping look at the not too distant future. Filled with great characters, fascinating AI and some startling twists this is one serial you definitely don’t want to miss!

There is so much I want to shout about, but sadly can't for fear of spoilers. Trust me, this is a great story which will melt your heart and set every geeky cell in your body abuzz. I think the narrated version will be something beautiful to behold.

***

Machina launches on 29 January 2020 and as always you can read or listen to the first episode for free over at Serial Box. You can order the entire first season for $9.99.

The Rating: 7.5 (Very good)

Thank you to Serial Box for providing me with an eARC for review purposes.

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