Gareth L. Powell, "Descendant Machine" (Titan Books, 2023)


Gareth L. Powell’s Descendant Machine (Titan Books, 2023) is set about 200 years in the future, and yet the recent explosion in A.I. technology suggests Powell’s imagined future—in which the minds of humans and A.I.s are symbiotically enmeshed—is just around the corner.

The Bristol author’s new novel centers around a mysterious machine called the Grand Mechanism, an impenetrable black sphere, which, about two thousand years ago, replaced a star in a binary system. The system is home to a humanoid, multi-armed species known as the Jzat, who are divided among those who want to crack open the Grand Mechanism, believing it contains a wormhole to connect them with a more advanced Jzat civilization, and those who want to leave the mechanism alone, fearing it contains a black hole or other existential danger.

“I got a bit satirical with the way the faction is appealing to nationalism to get the power they need to open this thing by promising sunlit uplands and making Jzat great again,” Powell says. “It's like any scientific experiment, any scientific knowledge that sentient beings see. It’s a process of just poking stuff to see what happens. Chimpanzees do it, and crows do it. You find something you don't understand, you poke it and try and break it and see what it can do. And that's how we learn. And that's what's basically happening on a massive scale in this story with this ancient machine that nobody knows what it does, but they want to poke it and see what happens.”

Powell is known for using fast-paced, character-driven science fiction to explore big ideas and themes of identity, loss, and the human condition. He has twice won the coveted British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel and has become one of the most-shortlisted authors in the 50-year history of the award, as well as being a finalist for the Locus, British Fantasy, Seiun, and Canopus awards.

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