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Barbary Station by R. E. Stearns
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I was hoping for an entertaining romp - space pirates and rogue AI - but it was an absolute muddle. Characters were flat, plot was implausible, and the action sequences were repetititve - people plodding through bit of debris getting shot at, like a very low-budget eighties game. I couldn't be bothered to finish. ( )
  SChant | May 2, 2018 |
I really enjoyed this! It was a fun space adventure that follows two female engineers who have recently graduated and have decided to pursue piracy.

I enjoyed both Adda and Iridian. I found their voices unique, and I liked how much they cared for each other. The writing was easy to follow, and I enjoyed it.

The space station/setting was kind of cool - it was hard to imagine sometimes, but I got the gist of it. I liked the pirates and how things went.

This review is not making sense, I am much too tired.

Overall, it was fun and I liked the characters and plot. ( )
  jdifelice | Jan 20, 2018 |
Interested in a novel where lesbian space pirates fight a rogue AI? Then Barbary Station is the book for you.

Adda and Iridian decided that the best hope for their future lies in piracy. How else could they pay off their student debt? So they concoct a plan to get in with a piracy crew on Barbary Station, stealing a colony ship’s worth of supplies to prove their value. But once they arrive on Barbary Station, nothing is what they expected. The pirates aren’t living in luxury but are hiding in a base rigged to the exterior of the station, traveling through the cracks and crannies of the station, always on the lookout. For the station might have been abandoned, but the security AI was never shut off. It’s decided that the pirates — and a group of refugees also on the station — are intruders, and it’s willing to use lethal force to get rid of them. Oh, and it shoots down any ship that attempts to leave. Adda, Iridian, and the rest of the pirates are doomed to a slow death, unless they can deal with the AI once and for all.

I enjoyed Barbary Station, but I also felt like it could have been better. Probably the biggest area for improvement is in the characters. All of the characters could be stronger, Adda and Iridian included. I’m glad the book chose to have them in an established romantic relationship (why don’t more books do this?), but I also would have liked to get more of a sense of what they saw in each other, why they’re together, that sort of thing. As is, I sort of felt like I was being told they loved each other without ever really feeling it.

However, it’s the supporting cast who really need more development. Probably the two most prominent are Adda’s younger brother, Pel, and the pirate captain, Sloane. Pel felt sort of like a character type — the cocky but lovable younger brother, but it worked all right. I would have liked to see more about Sloane, who’s this sort of mysterious figure hovering over the entire book. I got the impression there was some stuff going on with the Captain (important backstory?), but we never find out what. Maybe it’s being saved for the sequel? As for the rest of the cast, they never made much of an impression. And I think they need to, especially if Stearns wants those character deaths to have impact.

Plot-wise, Barbary Station could have been streamlined. I felt like there was some lulls in the pace, and I thought the story called for a consistently high pace and action that drives everything forward. There were a few spots where I could feel myself getting bored, especially in the beginning. Thankfully, the second half engaged my interest more.

I did like the overall set up with the killer AI. Pretty soon, Adda starts asking whether or not the AI’s awakened. In the language of the book, that means whether or not the AI’s become sentient. Supposedly, it’s not unknown, but awakened AI’s are always immediately destroyed. I liked the way Barbary Station dealt with the topic, and I’m interested to see where the sequel takes it.

And yes, I am planning on reading the sequel. For all its flaws, I found Barbary Station an enjoyable read. It’s not bad for a debut novel, and I’d love to see how R.E. Stearns grows as a writer with future books.

Review from The Illustrated Page. ( )
  pwaites | Jan 2, 2018 |
This review and others posted over at my blog.

Lesbian space pirates versus a murderous AI? Sign me the hell up! The result left me feeling conflicted, however. Buckle up!

We’re immediately thrust into the story and Adda and Iridian’s dreams for their future, all of which intrigued me. The action throughout the book is kept at a fairly steady pace – Adda’s introverted and tech-minded observations are offset by Iridian’s near constant action scenes. Once the couple is aboard the ship, there’s a lot going on. The pirates are living in the walls in order to stay alive, a bunch of refugees who left their planet after a war are living inside parameters set by the AI and there’s a handful of doctors the ship seems to want to protect.

For the most part, I found it easy to imagine what was happening, but when it came to the general layout of the station, most notably any scenes taking place on its surface, I was utterly lost. I would have loved a map (or maps!) of the ship to get a better handle on where everyone was traveling to and from. In those cases, I just imagined an amalgamation of various space stations I’ve seen in movies, but it took me out of the story to have to do so.

I loved the unsettling tone set early on by the AI – I’m a sucker for “evil AI” plots, the creepier the better! Nothing quite so frightening as imagining floating through the deadly darkness of space inside of a machine hell-bent on killing you. (Note: It wasn’t until photographing the book that I noticed the A and I in the title were highlighted – clever!) The AI in this book, known as AegiSKADA, considers the pirates to be the biggest threat and is constantly sending drones to kill them if they leave their hideout and eventually its tactics evolve to more sinister means. AegiSKADA does still want to keep the station intact however and must do its best not to do too much damage when exterminating the pests (hence why it doesn’t just bomb an entire portion of the ship). Iridian and Adda’s presence only upsets it further.

I found the rest of the cast to be less interesting than the AI, with the exception of Iridian. She and Adda are ridiculously opposite. Iridian is a tall, dark-skinned, bald, well-muscled, boisterous, ex-soldier with a really cool, high-tech battleshield. Adda is a short, light-skinned, red and purple haired, self-consciously curvaceous, socially awkward, techie with what’s essentially a hardware jack in her nostril. I couldn’t understand why they were together – they clearly cared about each other (or Adda attempted to worry about Iridian when she wasn’t in a drug-induced tech trance) but I could never get a sense of what brought them together, or kept them together. They felt more like friends than lovers, and while this doesn’t largely affect the story, their relationship felt out of place.

Iridian has enough personality for two main characters and I friggen loved her. She’s strong, smart and won’t take any shit, unless of course she has to, for the betterment of her and Adda’s future. She knows when to stand down and when to kick ass. In contrast, Adda seemed put upon any time she had to interact with a human other than Iridian (or sometimes even Iridian) and spent much of her time in a drugged state to achieve a deeper connection with AegiSKADA. She’s a sort of hacker (the book describes her skill far better than I could), but in order to get into the ship’s systems she has to take a drug and then plug into the system so she can manipulate it in her workspace (I’ll come back to that.) Adda just fell flat for me.

Adda’s brother, Pel, has a few interesting scenes, but was mostly the clichéd troublemaker. The crew was too large to get to know. There were some diverse relationships among the members and the Captain’s gender is never declared (the Captain also had some fabulous sounding outfits), but I couldn’t bring myself to care what happened to any of them.

So, Adda’s workspace: her specialty in systems engineering has led her to get implants that allow her to literally connect herself to a machine’s systems. In order to concentrate she takes drugs and enters a strange state of mind where the information she is looking for becomes a surreal, interactive experience. For example, during one session the information was presented in the form of moths and other bugs, pinned to the wall as though preserved by an entomologist. Clouds of undead bugs would then flicker and move about the room and at one point something bloody hit a window? It was like reading a strange dream (or nightmare, in my book.) I loved this mix of human and computer and I’ve never read anything quite like it.

What lost me much of time, however, was all the technical talk. I’m assuming Stearns knows what she’s talking about, because it’s all Greek to me. Sometimes I can gloss over these details and just accept that stuff is happening because people know way more about science and technology than I do. Other times I get caught up and confused, struggling to make sense of the words on the page. This was one of those times. This certainly won’t be an issue for everyone though.

In the end, this was a middle of the road read for me. I expected to be blown away, but the tech-talk made it a dense, slow read and the characters were lackluster. Iridian is awesome though and AegiSKADA was as creeptastic as I could have hoped for, so it balanced out. If you like a lot of science and technology in your sci-f and you love AI-driven plots, certainly check this out.

I received this book for free from Geek Girl Authority in exchange for my honest review. ( )
  MillieHennessy | Nov 28, 2017 |
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"Two engineers hijack a spaceship to join some space pirates--only to discover the pirates are hiding from a malevolent AI. Now they have to outwit the AI if they want to join the pirate crew--and survive long enough to enjoy it. Adda and Iridian are newly minted engineers, but aren't able to find any work in a solar system ruined by economic collapse after an interplanetary war. Desperate for employment, they hijack a colony ship and plan to join a famed pirate crew living in luxury at Barbary Station, an abandoned shipbreaking station in deep space. But when they arrive there, nothing is as expected. The pirates aren't living in luxury--they're hiding in a makeshift base welded onto the station's exterior hull. The artificial intelligence controlling the station's security system has gone mad, trying to kill all station residents and shooting down any ship that attempts to leave--so there's no way out. Adda and Iridian have one chance to earn a place on the pirate crew: destroy the artificial intelligence. The last engineer who went up against the AI met an untimely end, and the pirates are taking bets on how the newcomers will die. But Adda and Iridian plan to beat the odds. There's a glorious future in piracy… (more)

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