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Erik A. Otto
Author, Illustrator
Erik A. Otto, author
Population centers have been leveled and society has regressed to a pre-industrialized state. An advanced city rises from the ashes, enabling the rebirth of more such cities, each one subtly different, the result of an experiment in finding the best machine-governed utopia. Sovereign forces mobilize to exploit their power, and others, to contain them. At the heart of this struggle is an unlikely pair; a dejected anthropologist whose life’s work has finally become useful, and a snarky pirate forced to serve a monastic cult. To survive, they must not only navigate escalating conflict, but also understand the broader implications of the rising machine cities for all of humanity.
Otto deftly weaves together the details of a post-apocalyptic world, the ethics of artificial intelligence, and a pair of redemption stories for two vastly different characters. A loose stand-alone sequel to Detonation, Otto quickly establishes the key characters and the stakes of the story. The first chapter introduces the pirate mercenary Lexie, who is kidnapped by a bizarre monastic order known as Observers after she delivers a crucial piece of information. The second introduces Dryden, an alcoholic anthropologist whose obscure expertise in “awakening” cities suddenly brings him to the attention of the powers that be. Otto alternates their narratives in a manner that keeps the narrative moving at a steady clip.

The stakes are high, as the sentient super-city Haplopol mysteriously reappears after disappearing for centuries. One of several cities that once caused an apocalyptic event, designed to promote the well-being of its citizens but given limits to its geographical expansion, Haplopol and its larger sister-city Diplopol use hallucinogenic technology to turn humans into obedient tools dedicated to its expansion. Otto quickly establishes the ethical problems surrounding the cities as Dryden's knowledge makes him an asset for a power-hungry general and Lexi is chosen to help the Observers oppose a potential new apocalypse.

There are various side-quests along the way as the opposition seeks to awaken other lost super-cities to help them and Proliferation offers up betrayals, surprising twists, and thoughtfully articulated moral conundrums. Otto builds tension as his protagonists cross paths, resolving both of their personal story arcs while leaving room for future adventures. He does assume readers come to the novel with a certain familiarity with his world, as he introduces details like the technology-devouring creatures called retchers without much explanation, but Otto's empathy for his flawed characters grounds the technical details of this world. The result is a multi-layered narrative that doesn't skimp on action and intrigue while introducing a series of complex, relevant ethical problems.

Takeaway:Vivid post-apocalyptic world-building and engaging ethical dilemmas set this thoughtful science-fiction epic apart.

Great for fans of: Thomas Harlen, Alastair Reynolds.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B

BlueInk Reviews

"While there's plenty of engaging action, the novel is also a thematically rich, entertaining read."
"Proliferation is sprawling, immersive post-apocalyptic fiction, packed with intrigue and ideas."

Kirkus Reviews

"SF with major ideas, as much so as Isaac Asimov's iconic Three Laws of Robotics."
"Impressive AI Mayhem and thematic parsing for SF fans"