Adam Oyebanji’s 2022 debut Braking Day is that rare bird, a stand-alone science fiction novel1.
Seven generations ago, three vast generation ships—Archimedes, Bohr, and Chandrasekar—fled the soft tyranny of AI-run nanny-state Earth for the freedom of whatever waited in the Tau Ceti system. Generations of sacrifice have paid off. The fleet is approaching Tau Ceti, where a sufficiently Earthlike world awaits human settlement. The promised day looms!
As Midshipman Ravi MacLeod will discover, the above is true but it is hardly the full truth. What was left out of the official history may be enough to kill everyone on Archimedes, Bohr, and Chandrasekar.
Ravi is determined to earn his way into the ranks of Archimedes’ respected engineers. Unfortunately, after seven generations, passengers have developed stereotypes re the lineages that call Archimedeshome. Ravi may be bright and hard-working, but he is also a MacLeod. MacLeods are known to be habitual criminals who are forever one conviction away from being mulched. Ravi spends his days working to prove that he is an exceptional, non-criminal MacLeod.
Focused on proving he is no criminal, Ravi encounters an entirely different impediment to professional success. Dispatched on a tedious errand, Ravi hears mysterious tapping. Believing it to be a prank by crewmate, he looks through the port of a nearby airlock. On the other side: a woman. Not only is she a stranger — nearly unheard of in a community as small as Archimedes — she is not wearing a space suit despite being in the vacuum of space. Clearly, Ravi has gone mad.
Insanity is undesirable in an engineer, particularly in a delicate environment like Archimedes. Happily, not only does Ravi have many distractions — his somewhat less uncriminal cousin Boz and her forays into forbidden programming, various inexplicable events which Ship Security insists never happened and cannot be discussed — but Ravi is not mad at all. His built-in cybernetics have been hacked by Lisette.
Who Lisette, you ask? Lisette is from Newton, the fourth ship in the fleet. Why Ravi has never heard of the Newton, why Lisette resorted this means of contacting Ravi, and why Archimedes’ officers are energetically engaged in all sorts of secretive activities … add up to an impending crisis that could well spell the end of the fleet.
Braking Day’s title is easily found on all the bookselling sources to which I link. This may seem like an odd thing to note, but it is something not true for many other books. There are a plethora of easily confused titles out there; Oyebanji avoided that trap with a simple two-word title.
Obligatory James gripe: the plot depends on habitat-sized craft in fairly close proximity to each other — a million km or so — being hard to spot. This is my skeptical face. This is the book’s gimme, like other novels’ FTL.
There have been many generation-ship novels which combine an Earth lost to AIs, environmental collapse, and other calamities with an Earth that somehow managed to create one or more (at least four, in this case) large generation ships able to sustain human life for a century or more. There are backstories that should have made it difficult or impossible to build those ships. Implausible.
But Braking Day is not implausible. Earth was rich enough to afford the fleet. The ruling LOKIs (AIs by another name) were happy to let an assortment of extremists engage in a quite possibly doomed expedition. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
And it must be admitted that the fleet was put together by an alliance of wing-nuts non-consensus fanatics enthusiasts. Some of whom might justly be regarded as bad rubbish. Their descendants are, however, convinced that all the ancestors were of course perfectly right and rational and that official records must be edited to remove any evidence to the contrary2.
This tendency to favor prejudice over accuracy is not unrelated to the command staff’s willingness to believe that any given MacLeod must be a criminal. If there’s no evidence, why, you must not be looking hard enough3.
I don’t know if this was intended as a YA novel. Given its lead’s young age and the plethora of stubborn willfully deaf older people against whom he and other young people must contend, Braking Day could certainly function as such. However, older SF readers, particularly fans of generation books that are not simply knock-offs of Orphans of the Sky will enjoy this deep space thriller as well. It’s a promising debut.
1: Not only is this book a stand-alone, it has also merited that rare James review that appears reasonably close to the book’s debut. What are the probabilities here?
2: This synopsis may give the impression the ship’s ruling classes are more unified than they are. Even limiting discussion to Archimedes, Bohr, and Chandrasekar, there’s heated debate about the morality of colonizing Destination World. Some feel it would be better to remain in the aging generation ships.
3: Probably best not to ask the question “Are there any MacLeods with significant stage time who don’t break the law?”