Review: Nucleation – Kimberley Unger
by Kimberly Unger
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Publication Date: November 13, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
We are live, we are live, we are live . . .
Helen Vectorovich holds the unique distinction of failing at first contact - and she did it in both virtual reality and outer space.
Only the most elite teams of operators and navigators get to pilot in remote space-mining operations. And no one was better than Helen and her navigator. Together they secured a multibillion contract for establishing an interstellar gate to a distant star. But during a routine mission, what should have been an easy success turned deadly.
Helen, grounded in a desk job, has overeager junior pilots jockeying to take her place, jealous corporate rivals, and nasty rumors blaming her for the botched mission. Meanwhile, Helen’s new discovery in space - the Scale - seems to be . . . evolving.
When someone - or something - wants to terminate her project, Helen must race to find out why before it is far too late.
This is billed as a first contact book, which it is, but more accurately it’s a slowly paced sci-fi thriller. It’s not focused so much on the aliens as it is on uncovering possible corporate espionage and untangling the events surrounding a deadly accident.
In the future, companies like Far Reaches use quantum entanglement to allow OPs (operators) to control waldos – purpose designed machines – mostly for the purposes of mining. Each OP is paired with a NAV (navigators) who keeps the OP on task and manages the flow of information. Helen is one of the best OPs, and she’s delighted to be the first to connect with the Golf Ball, a tiny construction ship whose job is to build a jump gate that would allow actual human exploration. But from the start something is wrong. The Golf Ball is only partially built, and the eenies – as the nanobots are known – seem to not be following the mission parameters. But all that is eclipsed by the death of her NAV, Ted. Reeling in grief, Helen finds herself pulled off the mission and “promoted” to a desk job. Helen’s sole purpose now is to figure out what happened – and to prevent it from happening again.
“I signed up to ride waldos, not play private detective.”
Helen is not a people person. I think at points this did effect the way the story hit. For instance, her reactions to Ted’s death didn’t feel quite right to me, and she struggles to deal effectively with the rest of her team. So while there are very human drivers, like Helen wanting to find out what happened to Ted and clear her name, this is essentially a plot-driven novel, rather than character-driven. She bemoans her lack of people skills at various times – it was something that Ted handled skillfully – but she doesn’t really make any progress in that area in this book. So while I sympathized with her, I never quite connected to her or the other characters and that did mute some of the tension for me.
There are two threads to the story: what’s happening on the Golf Ball and what’s happening back at the company. It’s very narrow in setting because of that. Helen spends the majority of her time on the Far Reaches campus, and even remotely she only visits three sites. Even with all those restrictions, I found the tech, especially the eenies, quite fascinating. My favorite parts were when Helen was piloting the various waldos. Those were also the most action-packed sequences.
The book ends with several plot threads left unresolved, so I’m wondering if this was meant to the be the first in a series. Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. It definitely has a lot of promise, and I’ll be watching for further books from the author.