SCUBA diving can facilitate a number of ends. It can be used purely for pleasure; that pleasure can be turned into a business, as a tourism operator. More pragmatically, diving can be used to investigate and secure salvage, or to explore wrecks either for salvage or information. Take these ideas of diving in the water and transplant them to space, and you get the idea behind Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Diving series. The first time this universe appeared in print was in the novella "Diving into the Wreck" in Asimov's (December 2005). Since then, there have been several other short stories; the first novel, also Diving into the Wreck, was released in 2009 and the sequel, City of Ruins, in 2011. Boneyards is the third, and there is a fourth novel apparently due in 2013. While I have read the original novella, I have not read the other novels, so it may be that I missed some of the nuances concerning the characters. That said, it was very easy to come in with basically no knowledge of either the context or the characters and still enjoy what was happening, which is quite an accomplishment for a third novel in a series.
The novel is split between two perspectives. It opens with Boss, whose adventures these primarily are, investigating a site on-planet that may have been the base of a Space Fleet many centuries ago. She and her team from Lost Souls—a company taking on the salvage/investigation aspect of SCUBA diving—have been commissioned to do so by Coop, a Fleet officer lost in time and rescued by Boss several years ago. He's hoping to find some sign of which way the Fleet went, five thousand years ago. This search for signs of the Fleet, and the repercussions of searching both planets and wrecks floating in space, takes up much of the action in Boss's strand of the story.
The second strand of the story concentrates on Squishy, or Rosealma, and is split between the present and recollections from Squishy's past. In the present, she is on a space science base whose purpose is to investigate the technology of the "Dignity Vessels"—ships of the Fleet that have been found, as wrecks, over the last few decades. The base is in the process of blowing up as Squishy's story starts. As the evacuation proceeds, the story switches back to nineteen years earlier, to reveal that Squishy knows Boss, and indeed used to work for her when she was diving on wrecks for tourism. As the story progresses, more of Squishy's history is revealed—that she used to work as a scientist on stealth technology and why she is now so vehemently against the Enterran Empire, at least, continuing their experimentation.
For most of the novel, these strands are quite separate. Although Squishy's gives some further insight into Boss's character, and Coop and his crew know far more about the stealth tech—properly called anacapa—than the Enterrans, these corresponding details are almost coincidental; they could easily be two separate books. They do, however, come together towards the end, with all the characters in one place for quite a satisfying conclusion to both stories.
The action is an enjoyable and important part of this novel. It's written at a brisk pace—fights don't take long—but there is still room for complex and interesting characterisation. The person least well served in terms of development is, unfortunately, Boss. This may reflect her development throughout the previous two novels, and may therefore be my loss rather than Rusch letting her down. Boss is certainly a strong and capable leader, and one who loathes being crowded (literally or figuratively). When the novel opens, Boss finds herself confronted with a very interesting power dynamic: she may be in charge of Lost Souls overall, but Stone is in charge of the specific ground party because Boss knows that "ground-based missions are not my strong suit" (p. 13), while Coop is a Fleet captain and has hired Boss to work for him. That Boss manages with this potential power conflict is demonstrative of her complexity and believability. However, there is little further development of her character—as a leader or as a person.
Squishy, on the other hand, gets much more development as details of her background are teased out and their implications for her current actions become apparent. She's a scientist whose research saw her involved in the first of many accidents concerning stealth technology; her relationship with that technology is one of the most interesting aspects of the whole novel. Does she fear it because of what it could do as technology, or because it has already killed people? Frequently science fiction treats technological advancement as all good or all bad—saviour or Frankenstein. Here, however, the potentially positive results are offset by the dangers of experimentation. Squishy is reminded of her mentor saying, "Scientists cannot control how the knowledge they discover is used. They can only search for truth and hope that others will show some restraint" (p. 278). This sums up Squishy's personal agony: to what extent are scientists responsible for their discoveries? There is, of course, no easy answer, either in the novel or real life.
Of the other characters, the most interesting is definitely Coop. Five thousand years out of time, he is shown to be coping remarkably well with the future—learning the language, adapting to the culture. At the same time, however, five thousand years is a long time—as people keep reminding him, and as he eventually gets very sick of. In our context, five thousand years ago Stonehenge was being built and the first dynasty was starting up in Egypt, as was the Minoan empire in the Mediterranean. It may be that going from one space-faring culture to another would be easier than going from a barely sedentary culture to an urban, highly technologised, lifestyle, but maybe not. Rusch does a very good job of showing both how Coop manages to integrate, but also just how alien he feels, and how heartsick for the Fleet and the life that he has lost.
The worldbuilding is also worth mentioning. The gender balance is a point to note: specialists of various sorts are as likely to be female as male; there is little angst over Boss as boss just because she is female. This is not an exclusively hetero universe, either. On a larger scale, Rusch posits two competing hegemonies: the Enterran Empire, where most of Squishy's story takes place, and the Nine Planets, where Lost Souls is based. Exactly how big these polities are and what their relationship is—aside from "touchy"—isn't really clear, but also doesn't have an enormous impact on the story.
Finally, I hope that no one is put off reading this because of the cover art. The woman pictured on the front does not accurately reflect either Boss or Squishy, and seems to be posed purely in order to emphasise her breasts. This is disappointing—particularly in light of the almost entire lack of sexiness, in favour of complex characterisation, demonstrated throughout the story.
Alexandra Pierce reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy, blogs about it at Randomly Yours, Alex, and talks about it as one third of the Galactic Suburbia podcast team. In between, she tries to instill a love of English and History in high school students.
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