Manseed – Jack Williamson (1982)
‘In the beginning there was Egan Drake, the genius who dreamed of spreading mankind among the galaxies.
Then came Megan, who took on her brother’s mantle and made his imaginings real. She gathered around her the finest in their fields – biology and astronautics, computer science and fusion propulsion – and fired them with her vision.
And finally was born The Project: a thousand tiny spacecraft crawling like electromechanical wombs towards the stars, each bearing the genetic seeds for a future colony of man.
And some fell on stony ground and some fell on fertile ground, and some…’
Blurb from the 1986 Sphere paperback edition.
Egan Drake is, or was, what you would call bipolar in today’s psychological lexicon. Possessing a high degree of manic creativity and occasional freak genius he puts together a scheme to send out automated ‘seedships’ into space, some of which may land on another inhabitable world.
And so the tale of one of the ships is told by its ‘defender’; a humanoid AI which possesses an amalgum of the major scientists working on the project and the dominant personality, Don Brink, an ex-soldier and mercenary whose specialised knowledge is needed to deal with any unexpected incidents.
The current action is interspersed with flashbacks of the project, set up by Megan Drake after her brother’s death. She tracks down and hires several vital men for her mission.
The ship finds a habitable world, but one which contains the still active remnants of a robotic defence force, awaiting the return of their biological masters who are some thirty thousand years late.
Suffice to say that the defender helps the ship to establish a new human colony on the new world and, in the process, comes to terms with himself as a sexless, but sentient, humanoid.
To be honest, the flashbacks are somewhat dull and give the impression of a tragically depressing set of people who would surely not have had the enthusiasm to carry through such a project.
In contrast, the futuristic elements are full of colour and life.