First of all, let me do the completely expected and take a moment out of my day and note how Goodreads has completely failed to live up to its function of tracking reads. I am 100% certain I have read something by Cat Rambo that I enjoyed a great deal, which is why her fabulous name stuck in my head as an author to read more of, and why I jumped on this book. But owing to the anti-novel prejudices of the Goodreads librarians, I am unable to locate what I read. So, past-carol, your judgement will remain questionable. Let this be some kind of statement as to why I don’t always pay attention to my mental notes.
MOVING ON. So, is this any good? Yes and no. It is wildly uneven, in both pace and tone, so your mileage will vary with tolerance. Let me be clear, lest you think I exaggerate (and at a slight risk of spoilers): in under seventy pages, we will see the introduction of a mysterious cryochamber with an unknown being, the ominous return of a military squad, the appearance of a potentially life-changing reviewer, the introduction of a rare sentient bioship, the lure of fat amounts of cash, and the destructive appearance of a galaxy-wide, unknown species, along with enough personal reminiscing to choke a cat. The second and third acts, each roughly a hundred pages, will fold out far more indulgently, backdrops BONDING! and SPACEPIRATES! and the final act will briefly wrap up a few personal threads. I call them ‘acts,’ because tone, plot and theme are very different from section to section, but Rambo is not kind enough to differentiate them as such. But acts they are, with according mental and tonal shifts, and beware if one expects a steady crescendo.
What troubled me most and is hardest to ‘splain, is the tone. It weaves from wildly irreverent, à la Restaurant at the End of the Universe, to truly serious themes of friendship, coercion, and imprisonment. It veers from comradery to–cough–removal of those friends and leaving them behind like so much space dust. I can’t get exact in this without citing each bit that supports the relationship, than each subsequent sarcastic bit that tears it down, but trust me, it happens. Also very obvious in the beginning is the situations noting where someone is supposed to be part of a ‘team,’ then is dismissed (or their memory) relatively quickly. That’s a tricky emotional line to walk. Douglas Adams did it by avoiding the personal connection: the Earth he showed us before it’s untimely destruction was largely full of bureaucratic, drunk or self-interested assholes. It’s pretty hard to wrote both sarcasm, a reaction that is about emotional distancing, and caring, an emotion that’s about connection.
Something about this feels very kitchen-sink, along the lines of Ann Leckie, Tim Pratt and Suzanne Palmer’s The Finder, so if you like those, this might work as well. The bioship and AI are thrown in but not particularly well-explored. These concepts work best when they more singular focus, much like A Closed and Common Orbit or Murderbot. As it was, I felt like the AI/bioship mostly had a bunch of attributed emotions and was supposed to work them out. Sisters of the Vast Black did a better job with bioships, and The Finder series did more interesting things with AI.
Overall, it felt like a very mixed experienced to me, with parts I really wanted to like, parts that seemed a little too self-aware and broad, and a lot of parts that felt like they were pulled from books I liked better. I honestly meant to re-read, to give it more of a chance, but just couldn’t work the energy in. It just wasn’t fun enough to inspire a re-read during a couple weeks of very full real-life (other paper books that were more appealing were Vespertine and The Verifiers, while numerous ebooks competed for attention).