by Nirina StoneSidney is a 10 year old orphan scratching a lonely living in a giant dome when she comes across a murderous robot. Petra is programmed to kill all of those people who have the flu, so that others who are in stasis can re-emerge in a safer world. So when Sidney meets Petra, the girl fears it's the end. But something goes wrong with Petra's diagnostics, and as long as she doubts Sidney's health status Petra's mission is to protect her.
Alongside Sidney, Petra is also trying to help a scruffy man who Sidney fears is actually a cannibal raider. They're living on Allende, a ravaged post-apocalyptic far future world of nightly corrosive rain, little food, and the ruins of a once-great civilisation. The remaining people have turned to savagery and every corner they turn holds fresh dangers.
Sidney's first instinct is to run from Petra and Henry, the man she fears is a raider. The plot thickens when they encounter other suspicious people, and when Petra's programming behaves unexpectedly. Allende is a post-Earth world, so its technology is in some ways so advanced it seems like magic. In the case of its android bots their AI seems human, whilst Petra herself is supposed to be a unique model.
The story is told in the present tense, which can come across as quite abrupt and even jarring. The third person narration switches between Sidney's, Petra's, and more seldom Henry's points of view. There's a thread of them learning to trust each other and growing from strangers to friends, whilst Petra figures our what her choices mean on the occasions when she has a conflict between upholding one Allendian law or part of her programming, and another.
There is plenty of action and excitement. Depopulation has left Allende mostly with criminals and violent, selfish people who think nothing of treating others with contempt, so the main characters tend to spend a lot of time trying to escape from bad people. However, they're doing this in an Earth-like world that is nevertheless full of surprises, so there's never a dull moment. The main characters are sympathetic without being bland innocents or heroes, and they have to navigate their own moral dilemmas as they try to survive and protect the people or things they care about.
My main issue with Petra is that it takes itself rather seriously. However, it is an enjoyable, fast-paced post-apocalyptic story of android ethics and the challenges of surviving the end of the world.
4th August 2019
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy