One of my favorite things in sci-fi is the question of what it means to be human, and when do machines cross that line into being truly alive, capable of free will, of questioning their makers, of wanting to be a part of this thing called “life”. “Urban Heroes” leans hard into that question and I love it. You have the main character, Calista, who is on the run from the uprising between man and machine she was accidentally a part of. Calista is a pilot, which means she has an almost symbiotic relationship with her ship all for the low, low price of trading her arm for a robotic one. Calista runs in with people who have more machine parts then actual machines, and yet they are offered more rights than the true robotic AI populating their world. Which is occupied by floating cities now that the world has kind of crumbled away, or something. With Calista is Axton, who pretty much everyone and their mother wants to get their hands on. Why? That is slowly teased out over the course of this very short book, and I loved the tragedy that was Calista and Axton. This book makes you think, question what is truly alive, breaks your heart, and leaves you wanting more. Maybe too much more?
This book is a standalone story that shares a universe with the authors other books. Technically, you don’t need to read the others to be able to understand this story, and you don’t! I had no trouble grasping what was going on and why. But it felt more like a glimpse into the world from the window of a high speed train—you get these impressions of the world, just the barest outline to help you figure out what this new version of Earth and its cities are like, what purpose the pilots have and their connection to the floating mega prison, Voltza. You get a brush stroke of the actual uprising, and snap shots of the gritty surface world, away from the twelve floating cities. For me, for a book to be truly standalone within a shared universe series, I need more than just glimpses. I should be able to understand and see the world just as well as those who have read other books in the world. Ultimately, this was my only complaint about this novella; I really wanted more of the world and world building to have been present in this book, so that characters who make brief appearances, but clearly have significance, would have left more of an impact as they came in and out of the story, and to understand more of the world in general. It does make me want to read more books in this universe though, so at least there is that.
That being said, I really did like the main character. I love her struggles, her heartbreak, the moral grey area she occupies between humans and machines. I constantly ached for this tortured soul and wanted to give her a hug, though she’d probably shoot me with her gauntlet for doing that—worth it! I also loved the portrayal of the sentient AI and how they were like children in many ways. The pacing of the book also works well for the story. Everything moves fast, which fits very well with Calista and Axton being on the run. This was such a surprisingly heartbreaking read that moves so quickly, that I am still picking up the pieces of my heart off the floor. I just wish that I felt like I got a fuller picture of the world the author created with this particular novella, so I’m giving it a powerful 4 stars! I highly recommend that if you like science fiction that delves into the conflicts between man and machine, that you pick up this story—nay the rest of the series! And thanks to the author for providing me a copy for an honest review.
Click the book images to see them on Amazon!