Subjugation, the third novel in Erik A. Otto’s Detonation series, is a sprawling, immersive, dystopian science-fiction epic.
In this volume, Otto returns to a conflict that was first introduced in book one, Detonation. Once again, the U.S. mainland is described as a post-apocalyptic hinterland, populated by disparate factions, some of which—the Essentialists and the Spokes—are engaged in a conflict assisted by uber-intelligent AIs.
Gail, a destructive machine-intelligence bent on dominance, controls the Essentialists, while the Sentinel, a machine-intelligence defending humanity, supports the Spokes.
Against this large-scale backdrop, various narratives unfold. These include the continuing story of Cecile, a key character in Proliferation, who volunteers to escort Warrick Kelemen—a psychologically damaged individual whose knowledge could prove decisive in the battle against Gail—to safety. Cecile has ulterior motivations for transporting Warrick, which become increasingly obvious as the novel progresses.
Pirate-girl Lexie, another returning character from Proliferation, has also been searching for Warrick, although her motivations aren’t as sinister as Cecile’s.
All roads lead to the seemingly insignificant community of Aspen, where Offering Advocate Pyke, a downtrodden bureaucrat, discovers that the future of his fellow citizens, a population that worships a deceased game-show host, is under threat.
Subjugation presents a vast world stuffed with characters and ideas, which, in less confident hands would strain to cohere. However, Otto ensures the various narrative threads are neatly drawn together into an emotionally satisfying whole.
The author does an exemplary job elaborating previously established thematic concerns regarding humanity’s uncertain relationship with technology, while also taking time to reflect on media manipulation, consumer subservience, and personality cults. Subjugation’s philosophical preoccupations build steadily to a dramatically satisfying crescendo in the final act.
It’s advisable that readers familiarize themselves with the series’ preceding volumes; otherwise, the complicated plotting, surplus of characters and elaborate worldbuilding will likely prove frustrating.
That said, Subjugation is an enthralling addition to the Detonation series that will appeal to fans of dystopian worldbuilding and thoughtful science-fiction.
Also available as an ebook.