Loki’s Ring is an artificial alien world that humans don’t really understand. Even though humanity has spread out to cover many different planets and star systems, they leave Loki’s Ring alone. There are plenty of other places to explore in space after all. But now greed has brought humans there, and they’ve unleashed something that could destroy the entire known universe if it isn’t contained. Several different crews, with complicated histories, come together to try and save humanity from this threat in Stina Leicht’s Loki’s Ring.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Saga Press for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of Loki’s Ring contains some spoilers!]
A mother on a mission
Gita Chithra has a problem. Well, she has a few problems. The most pressing is that her daughter, Ri, has just contacted her asking for her help. Ri’s simple request is more complicated than it sounds. First off, Ri is an AGI or Artificial General Intelligence. Her consciousness grew while integrated with Gita’s mind.
Secondly, her cry for help came from the area of space known as L-39. L-39, or Loki’s Ring – an artificial world that was created by aliens at some point in the distant past. Humans have tried to contact any sentient beings on the surface of Loki’s Ring but have not received a reply. This combined with hostile displays has led the TRW (Terran Republic of Worlds) to declare the area off-limits.
Third, Ri’s cry for help reveals that the crew is contaminated with some dangerous disease that must be contained. Fourth, Ri’s ship is sponsored by a company from the NIA (Norton Independent Alliance) which is highly aggressive towards both AGIs and TWR involvement (which Gita is sanctioned by the TRW).
Despite all these (and more) challenges, Gita doesn’t think twice about racing off to help Ri. Of course, what seems like a straightforward snatch-and-grab rescue ends up becoming much more dangerous. Old friends get called in to help and things get more and more complicated. Eventually, they learn that the virus that Ri’s crew awakened might be the end of all life, both biological and artificial, as we understand it if a cure can’t be found, and fast!
An integrated(ish) future in Loki’s Ring
In the future computer science has evolved to the point of creating true artificial intelligence, known as AGI or Artificial General Intelligence in Loki’s Ring. AGIs have names, personalities, and even pronouns. And are recognized (by some) as intelligent beings on par with humans, which led to them having official citizenship in the TRW government. Gita, her family, and her crew are all firmly in the TRW camp on this matter. Gita believes in the sovereignty of AGI so much that she has “birthed” two AGI children by having their basic programming merged with her brain so they could learn to be like humans and become full AGIs.
But not all humans feel this way about AGIs. People in the NIA staunchly believe that AGIs are not people and as such, have no rights. More than that, they do not trust such intricate programming, making AGIs almost non-existent in their territory. Any AGIs that enter NIA territory are in extreme danger.
The idea of what constitutes a sentient being, and who has rights and protections as such, is very important in Loki’s Ring. Gita especially is very passionate about her position. That passion forces her to make and accept some very difficult decisions by the end of the book. After all, if an AGI is a sentient being they deserve to have all the same rights as humans, including the right to make decisions for themselves. Even if others disagree with the AGIs’ choice, they deserve to make that choice.
A lot of second-guessing
Gita is a classic over-thinker. The novel opens with 25 pages of a scenario that we think is real. But it is just Gita replaying events (again) from the past to see if there was a way things could have worked out better. Her obsession with those events leads her ship’s AGI to delete the program because Gita has run through it so many times. This isn’t the only way that Gita over-thinks things during Loki’s Ring. She often freezes or misses important things because she’s too busy thinking through multiple scenarios or second-guessing the decision she has made.
What Gita really has a problem with is confidence. Of course, overthinking and second-guessing are both symptoms of her lack of confidence. Gita struggles with this lack of confidence constantly. She beats herself up over everything. And she has a hard time differentiating between what she can and can’t control, and what she is and isn’t responsible for. Gita’s confidence is a real character flaw that she has to confront during the course of Loki’s Ring if she is going to save her daughters and get her crew out alive.
Stina Leicht writes a thought-provoking sci-fi novel
Loki’s Ring takes a deep look at just what consciousness is and just what is sentient. It’s an interesting question that had me thinking long after I finished Leicht’s story. This book leans heavily into the sci-fi genre, most of it takes place on various starships or space stations. Only a small part of Loki’s Ring takes place in the location the book is named after.
Between all the space travel and AGIs, I would say that Loki’s Ring is definitely aimed at a sci-fi crowd. If space and computers aren’t your things, you’ll probably want to keep looking. At nearly 500 pages, Loki’s Ring is also a thick read, so be ready for a long haul if you’re going to read this one.
Having said that, there is a lot of interesting and thought-provoking material in this novel. The debate about sentient beings and who deserves rights is fascinating. This book would be perfect for a book club looking to tackle tough questions and have real discussions. Loki’s Ring is a thinking type of book. But with enough action to keep it exciting and interesting on a more adrenaline-fueled level too.
My Rating: 7/10