TKO Studios, 2019, 160 pages
From Eisner Award-winners Jeff Lemire (Black Hammer) and Gabriel Walta (The Vision). When an attack kills the adults on a colony ship, the on-board A.I. VALARIE must help the ship's children survive. But as they are pursued by dangerous forces through space, can VALARIE rise to the task and save these children?
I will always have a soft spot for YA science fiction, especially "kids in space" stories that remind me of old Heinlein juveniles. There aren't many new ones — YA SF is usually about dystopias and identity and shipping drama and whatever the young'uns are interested in nowadays. Sentient is like a little kiss from sci-fi's golden age, a story about a colony ship, kids in peril, an AI learning to be human, and completely extraneous space pirates.
With allowances made for the fact that it's told in graphic novel form, Sentient was pretty good. I enjoyed it, even if the science is soft at times (AIs that don't really act like believable AIs are one of my pet peeves.)
The USS Montgomery is a colony ship carrying families, including a bunch of kids, to another planet. Earth is on the brink of environmental collapse, and there are also separatist terrorists on the colony itself. The details are never really explained, as they aren't that important to the story.
One of the members of the crew - who's also the mother of one of the kids - turns out to be a separatist. She kills all the other adults, apparently planning to bring all the children to her separatist comrades when they get to their destination. There is a brief but graphic bloodbath at the end of which all the adults, including the separatist, are dead. The only survivors are the children, the oldest one being 10 years old, and Valarie, the ship's AI.
Valarie has to teach the kids to perform ship's duties while bringing them to their destination. The kids are mostly responsible for their ages, but they are kids, and Valarie wasn't programmed to be a parent. But she learns.
Much of the story is about Valarie evolving, and the kids struggling to cope after having watched the bloody corpses of their parents get ejected into space.
The main characters (aside from Val) are the two oldest, Lil and Isaac. Lil is smart and capable, but also angry and rebellious. She is stuck being the leader, and hates it, and argues with Valarie constantly.
Isaac carries the heaviest burden: his mother is the one who killed everyone else's parents. He's the most mature and responsible, but nobody trusts him.
As science fiction, it is a comic book: it's easy to pick holes in the story. Why no teenagers, or anyone else between the age of 10 and 30? Where did the "evil AI" come from?
Valarie is a little too emotional for an AI, and there are times when the computer is unable to do things that a ship's computer should easily be able to do (like paying attention to two things at once, or locking doors) because it's convenient to the plot. The "hacking" scenes are very Hollywood, with 10-year-olds doing things that even very bright 10-year-olds really couldn't do. The ship having to make "refueling stops" and the plausibility of space pirates is handwaved, so just accept that it's a YA adventure about kids in peril
If kids in space is your kind of thing, I recommend Sentient. The art is very classic SF, and the artist captures kids' faces in a way a lot of comic artists can't, and when bad things happen, it actually feels like the children are experiencing it the way children do.
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