In space, no one can hear you scream at the rogue AI protecting Earth the way she feels is best.
Yan Hang’s first book in the Systems of Salvations series is an interesting mesh of soft science fiction, political intrigue, and American Wild West survival. There are times I’m not sure it should work, and times I’m not even sure it did work, but never was there a doubt in my mind that the world the author created was interesting and entertaining.
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400 years ago, biological weapons known as Narocks have escaped their master’s reach and overrun Planet Earth. Three starships take to the skies, under the leadership of the AI known as DARCY. Darcy takes the remnants of humnanity to a star system 200 years away in hopes of being able to terraform Alpha Centauri. Upon arrival, however, the AI has concerns, and makes the decision to take humankind back to Earth.
Mankind doesn’t exist in quite the way they used to. They sleep in Cryopods, competing against each other in a series of games known as the Reincarnation Trials. There’s a rotating system of worlds, and each ‘game’ has a different theme and a different focus that teaches players how to survive in various ways while embracing their settings’ themes proper. A point based system is in place that rewards players who show teamwork and leadership and punishes players who are unfortunate, unwitting, or unwilling. The competitions aren’t perfect however – some players have learned how to game them for their own political benefit, while others have learned how to enjoy their time in them without actually competing, turning to a world of “pleasure mode.”
Complicating things further is that mankind just doesn’t have children anymore, for a variety of reasons. This is why the birth of one Theodore Karo is so unexpected. On a trio of spaceships with travelers over hundreds of years old, he’s barely in his twenties. Also, unknown to everyone but him and his mother, the AI Darcy has enhanced him so that he could actually survive as a newborn. He is, in a very real sense, a cyborg. He’s something of a golden child, which is a problem because there’s a number of factions within humanity that doesn’t trust the AI and by proxy doesn’t trust him.
Theodore Karo is about to compete in the Reincarnation Trials for the first time. Also, unknown to all the players, the game world is going to be set to a much more brutal difficulty than usual. The reason is simple – the fleets have almost returned to Earth, and Darcy wants the players ready.
The game world is Snagglewood, a Western of sorts where the biggest threat is the Narocks themselves. Cities fall due to politicking and a lack of understanding of how the creatures work. Human interests on a local level supersede survival on a greater level. In the middle of it all, Theo is about to learn more not just about how to survive, but about the truth of the ships he is on, himself, and Darcy proper.
As the book continues, it becomes clear that the game world isn’t all that its cracked up to be, and that the NPCs have a secret behind them that are likely to be of concern should humanity proper find out. Darcy isn’t perfect, and she might not even be benevolent. Theo himself holds some rather extremist views on the idea that “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” to the point that in the beginning he feels that if the AI wants humanity to survive and needs babies to do it, women should have no choice but to be baby factories and anything short of this is a spite against mankind itself. Those in power have differing reasons for not trusting the AI, or even each other, but the things they’ll do to prove their point and get ahead in their own small schemes may actively hurt humanity’s survival in the long run. It also will be revealed that humankind actually has etched out a small bit of survival on the planet over the last 400 years. The things they’ve done to make it might make those that were starbound wonder just what real humanity is, and isn’t.
This book handles the intrigue and its different elements with such a solid bit of gusto I could never wait to see what would happen next. The main character is definitely overpowered and overconfident, and it is neat to see when that confidence serves him and when it outright fails him. The game world makes sense, even if at times it seems like a world where the rules are made up and the points don’t matter. It’s characters and their motives usually make sense – sometimes smart people do dumb things, and dumb people get incredibly lucky.
The Snagglewood game does end towards the end of the book in a way that makes sense, but also takes away a certain sense of accomplishment. The sudden dealings with an Earth that has survived 400 years without the main character and his coterie wasn’t without incident, and raised more questions for me than answers – answers I am sure will exist in book two. There’s also a feeling that the main character is going to need to start thinking about how his goals do and don’t mesh with what Darcy is up to, even has he has a sense of family love for her that doesn’t extend to his actual parents, and even in the face of the fact his actual parents aren’t the sort of people he can trust or care for. He is a man with convictions and a sense of duty and honor, but who he can trust and how he can trust them is about to be tested in some very serious ways and I am for there on that.
I’m sure if I wanted to nitpick I’d point out that the “global warming caused mankind to fight more” might be at best soft science, and also a bit overused. I might also point out that there’s a lot going on, at times to the point like there’s two different stories that are only in tandem with each other but not always meshing well. For me, these are rather small complaints, like how when one takes a taste of their first cup of coffee in the morning they might wonder if they want to ruin it with sugar or cream. It’s still amazing coffee that’ll get you going. I was absolutely there for this story, although the way the ending is set up the second book could break that interest. I really want to see Theo succeed, but I also need him to put some serious thought into his vision of humanity’s future and what he’s willing to do to accomplish it. As he is written, he could easily become a tyrant in his own right, and I’m genuinely hoping he learns to check that.
Overall, this is a book I would go out of my way to recommend to both LitRPG and Science Fiction fans. It tempers the power fantasy a bit to focus on survival and political intrigue, which works quite well. Try not to get attached to every NPC or character, though – the named death count is a bit high.
Reincarnation Trials: A LitRPG Apocalypse: Systems of Salvation, Book 1 was written by Han Yang and published by Royal Guard Publishing. It is listed at 546 pages for the novel, or over 21 hours via the audio book. It can be purchased from Amazon in e-book format for $4.99 and via hardcover for a premium price. It is also available on the Kindle Unlimited platform for subscribers at no additional cost to them.