Artificial intelligence has developed into a source of limitless possibility for the human race. From eliminating repetitive tasks, to improving the way payments are processed, AI is at the forefront of technology, and sci-fi writers have enjoyed playing with the concept of AI as a force for good and evil.
But what happened If an AI gained emotional intelligence? What if it formed a genuine attachment to the people it was created to protect? Jeff Lemire’s Sentient series poses this idea through the lens of children trapped on a spaceship. Published by TKO Studios, Sentient grapples with themes of family loyalty, love and lost innocence.
Survival at any cost
Sentient is set during a time where Earth has depleted all its resources and human colonies are being established on new planets. The crew of the U.S.S Montgomery are travelling towards their new life and the ship is run by an AI called Valerie. Lemire frames this introduction from the perspective of the children on the ship, making it feel as if the story will be told about the strong, capable Officer Wu and her daughter Lil.
But Lemire quickly pulls the rug from beneath our feet. The adult crew are slaughtered by a traitor and Valerie is released of her mission protocol. When the dust settles, only the children and the AI remain. Without adults to guide them, the kids are forced to grow up quickly and navigate the ship with Valerie’s aid.
As the eldest, Lil takes charge. Lemire skillfully captures her vulnerability and resentment. Her mother, the source of everything good in her life, has been violently taken away, leaving behind a machine in her place. Lil’s relationship with Valerie becomes increasingly complex, with the AI developing a motherly bond with her.
Valerie also takes a strong interest in Isaac, the son of the traitor who killed the crew. At first, both feel like outcasts and it unites them. But over time, Isaac comes to see Valerie as a mother figure as well.
The relationship between Valerie, Isaac and Lil is at the heart of Sentient. Each is thrust into a role that they didn’t ask for. But they learn to thrive by relying on each other and it’s touching to see it develop on the page.
Emotive art and expressions
Lemire’s stellar writing is bolstered by the talents of artist Gabriel Walta. He’s one of my favourite comic artists because his style is characterised by moody, emotive panels. It’s perfect for setting the tense atmosphere of Sentient. Walta’s panels capture the angst of the children as they try to make sense of a world without their parents. His depiction of violence is graphic and engrossing, highlighting the fear in the eyes of various characters.
Through the art, pacing and dialogue, Sentient becomes a series that readers can’t help but be invested in. It’s like watching a well-acted sci-fi film come to life on the page. There’s action, solid character development and relatable themes. And with a conclusion that sets up a possible continuation of the story, I’m looking forward to returning to the world of Sentient in the future.