Robert J. Sawyer

Golden Fleece

Tor, 1999 (revised edition)
ISBN: 0-312-86865-0

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The spaceship Argo is on its way to the planet Colchis with more than ten thousand people on board when one of them is found dead. A scientist who is the ex-wife of technician Aaron Rossman, also present on the ship, has died under mysterious circumstances. Was it an accident or murder? But who would have a motive for killing her? The new Argonauts have been selected carefully for this mission, and none of them should have a criminal predisposition. When Aaron starts investigating the case, he discovers an appalling secret capable of turning the whole mission into a failure if the rest of the crew gets wind of it...

Golden Fleece, Robert J. Sawyer's first novel, is a successful genre crossover between mystery and science fiction, though it reads more like science fiction in my opinion. The unusual point of view reminds you of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 - A Space Odyssey, because the reader learns most things from JASON, an intelligent quantum computer that is also the main board computer. As the plot moves on, it becomes evident that JASON not only controls the ship but manipulates the crew as well - or at least he tries to do so.

Artificial intelligence, a topic playing a major role in The Terminal Experiment, one of Sawyer's later books for which he won the Nebula Award, is already omnipresent in this first novel. To what extent should we allow computers to control our lives? Do they really make better, more rational decisions than the human mind? As JASON tries to find out how human beings think, the reader learns bit by bit why Aaron decided to be part of this mission. 250 pages not being enough to develop all the characters, most of the supporting characters stay rather one-dimensional, but Aaron appears to be fully fleshed out in the end and I got the impression that he was a real person showing all the strengths and flaws one can have.

Some readers may think that the author tried to tackle too many topics, but to me the book felt whole and I found the ending satisfying enough, even though not all loose ends got tied up. It will make you think, but if you don't like open endings, this novel might not be for you. For a first novel, it is rather well written, though the author hadn't developed his full potential yet.

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