They thought this was just another salvage job. They thought wrong.
There’s great world building here, with a complete ecosystem and a background and history of mankinds journey to the stars. Nicely fleshed out without to much details.
There aren’t many characters in The Salvage Crew, and all of them are worth being there.
Simon, a PTSD ridden youth who’s oddly triggerhappy and can function under stress.
“Exhibit A: Simon Joosten. Simon is my geologist. He’s thirty-five-ish, biological time, and looks like someone stuck eyeballs on a mop.”
Anna, the opinionated medic, who throws a temper tantrum every now and than.
Exhibit B: Anna Agarwal.
Anna is an odd fish. She’s got twenty years on Simon. But unlike Simon, Anna grew up with everything she ever wanted. I’ve checked her degree transcripts. They’re through the roof. High social skills. And then somewhere along the line she decided to ditch everything and become an Army doctor.
Doesn’t compute. You know why it doesn’t compute? Because Anna Agarwal doesn’t exist. I don’t know who the hell this person is, but the real Anna Agarwal, as verified by her gene sample, died on the microplanet Wayward Child. This imposter, let’s call her Fake-Anna, showed up on Arjuna III and has been hopping planets ever since, always moving outwards.
Milo, the cowardly engineer who likes finding trouble but can apparently fix almost everything.
Exhibit C: Milo Kalik. Finally, a sane choice. Milo, thirty-seven, is an inventor. He can shoot, yes, but also make stuff and argue Machiavelli and Chanakya by the fireside. Master’s degree in engineering from the Oort Academy. There are some irregularities; he’s been demoted three times so far—each time by a woman commander; that’s odd. And he’s spent a weird amount of time in cryosleep—almost three centuries. But right now I don’t have much to go on, so he’s my golden boy.
Lastly there’s the POV character who we know only as The Overseer, or OC for short. A human-turned-AI that’s running from the chassis of a lander.
This isn’t an A-Team. This is a D-Team with a paintjob. The real heroes are probably out somewhere in the Inner Rim, discovering alien civilizations while looking heroic in their armor. Me, I get the backwater planet and the salvage job.
All characters are unique and feel real, complete with all the messy bits you get when humans interact. OC tries to keep everyone focused on the mission, but is human enough to understand that that’s not always as easy.
The story reads a lot like something coming out of the fabled story-generator Rimworld. Let me elaborate, in Rimworld you have a small group of people that
crash land on an alien planet. You need to set up a base of operations consisting of sleeping quarters, food operations and defenses from native wildlife and bandits, all before starting to scavenge/retrieve pieces of a starship that crashed here some time ago. You can only leave the planet once you complete this goal. Most of the game story consists of handling the moods and interactions of your crew as the player Overseer. They will fight, fall in love, grumble, have mental breakdowns, get sick, get wounded, etc..
Rimworld is a game where the destination (reaching your goal and leaving the planet) is not what it’s about. It’s the journey, the story that you create, that matters. As
the player Overseer, you get attached to the humans entrusted to you, and you want to keep them alive, fed and happy, while still keeping the end goal in mind.
I don’t know if the author knows about Rimworld, if that’s where he got his idea, or that the similarities are just plain coincidental, but no matter which one it is, I love Rimworld and I very much enjoyed the story as well.
I liked the writing, a lot. Since we’re experiencing the story from the POV of an AI, the language used is very sparse, except when OC tries to interact with his humans. I like how the story started of light and breezy, with lots of jokes and puns. I highlighted quite a lot of them.
“I mean, look at the name. Planetary Crusade Services. End-to-end interstellar colonization support. We sound like the Pope blessed us to go conquer Space Jerusalem.”
There’s philosophical jokes:
“the great performance poet Hitang Sunil once said,
Or these Budhist jokes:
“Blasted creature. May you be reborn as a vacuum commode. May ten thousand lightning bolts strike every anus in your family tree.”
“Simon, you stupid fucking moron. May you be reborn as a cockroach in your next life. May ten thousand boots crush you into a pulp.”
Or just plain simple ones, that still make me giggle:
“THE USUAL THINGS HAPPEN. THE SHIP FALLS INTO ATMOSPHERE. OBVIOUSLY THE SURVIVORS, WHO MUST HAVE EXPECTED SOME KIND OF WELCOMING COMMITTEE, END UP DOING WHAT COLONISTS ARE TRAINED TO DO. DIE. AND THERE ENDS THE SAD SAGA OF THE “DAMN RIGHT I ATE THE APPLE”, A POORLY NAMED SHIP IF THERE EVER WAS ONE.”
I shrug internally. IT’S A COLONY SHIP.
In the movies, these old hulks always have survivors. Alien attack? AI gone mad? Boom, out pops a survivor and takes control of the situation.”
“The trees don’t really mind, because their fruit gets trampled under your feet and get in your fur and eventually shed somewhere else, and that’s a viable reproductive strategy. And it’s certainly easier than dating.”
“This is like that one time in Boulderlaire where some joker decided to inflate a thirty-foot pink rubber penis and stick it outside our base. Monumental dick move, literally. Only it turned out that Boulderlaire had a particular type of shelled snake whose mating rituals started by erecting themselves thirty feet high, and they just so happened to be really pink.”
Special mention to the Audiobook version with Nathan Fillion as the narrator. I’m normally a big fan of anything this man does, however, on this one he dropped the ball just a little. He does a great job of doing the monotone OC voice and making that character come to life, but there’s too much difference in volume for me to listen comfortably. Often times he tapers of at the end of the sentence, making me miss words and turning up the volume, only to hastily turn it back down again as he begins the next sentence at an almost shouting level. Maybe it’s just production issues, but I had a hard time understanding him at times and that didn’t make it as relaxing as it could have been.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It starts out great, funny, lighthearted, but it slowly turns into a shipwrecked thriller, made all the more scary by the dry, matter-of-fact tone of the OC POV.
The ending is quite satisfying and left me wanting a follow-up, so good job! 5 AI-Stars.