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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Diving Into the Wreck - Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Science fiction as a genre has always been based on what if.  What if we brought a man back to life?  What if we gave a computer control of a space station?  What if robots had the ability to reason?  Diving Into the Wreck is very much in this tradition, asking what happens when we start to forget technology?  Kristine Kathryn Rusch's answer is: nothing good.  Refreshingly old school, Wreck calls to mind the horrors of cramped space craft, the bleakness of space, and the depravity of human greed.

Boss loves to dive historical wrecks, derelict spacecraft found adrift in the blackness between stars. Sometimes she dives for salvage, but mostly she's a historian.  Once she dives a ship, she either leaves it for others to find or starts selling guided tours. It's a good life for a loner, with more interest in history than the people who make it.

When she comes across an enormous spacecraft, incredibly old, and apparently Earth-made, she's 
determined to investigate. It's impossible for something built in the days before FTL travel to have journeyed so far from Earth. Boss hires a group of divers to explore the wreck with her, but some secrets are best kept hidden, and the past won't give up its treasures without exacting a price.

Diving in space is a lot like diving in the ocean.  Instead of being worried about something snagging the air hose or running into a shark, sharp edges and nebulous ancient stealth technology are the fear du jour.  Rusch does a brilliant job of communicating the claustrophobia and paranoia that seem inimical to creeping through a derelict space craft far from any safe haven.  Stealth tech is the macguffin, a lost technology that promises untold wealth and power to the person(s) who can bring it back, that promises a horrible death to anyone who comes in contact with it.

The most charming aspect of the novel for me was the author's commitment to wreck diving.  Not the plot, but rather the nuts and bolts of the profession.  She considers all the pitfalls and realities of the job - what kind of person Boss would have to be, how she would make a living, and why she would put herself through it all.  By the end of the novel nothing in Wreck lacked authenticity.  So much so that if I didn't know the novel was set in the future I might find myself looking in the yellow pages for wreck divers.... you know, if I had to venture into deep space to recover something.

The novel is divided into three parts corresponding to the two novellas and a third part that weaves them together.  Taken on their own the first two parts are incredibly dynamic with pace, tension, and all the hallmarks of great science fiction.  It's unfortunate then that the connection of the two comes off a bit disjointed as though they weren't necessarily written with each other in mind.  This is pervasive throughout the novel where in order to tie the two novellas into a connected arc with a shared conclusion Boss spends a great deal of time talking, and talking, and talking to members of her team.  While these scenes are excellent opportunities to character build, and believe me the characters are tremendous, they leave quite a bit to be desired when it comes to pace.

Told entirely in the first person, Wreck is very introspective .  Boss spends a great deal of time humming and hawing her motivations in the midst of coming to grips with relationship to her father.  This deep introspection combined with the need to tie together the disparate story modules led to an unfortunate lack of world building.  Although not entirely necessary for the kind of story Rusch was telling the world itself is very bare bones.  I never got a great feel for the 'space' her lush characters were inhabiting and I'm not sure if the final product wasn't a little harmed as a result.

Nevertheless, Diving Into the Wreck is a worthwhile investment of reading resources.  Although the novel as a whole has some hiccups with an overly tidy ending there are parts here that hold up against the best science fiction on the market.  City of Ruins, Rusch's sequel, was released in May of this year.  I've already got a copy on my bedside table and look forward to getting to it soon.  I'm very confident that lacking the need to integrate two novellas into a larger arc City of Ruins can only improve over a very solid first installment.

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