Review: The Salvage Crew – Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

Review: The Salvage Crew – Yudhanjaya WijeratneThe Salvage Crew
by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne
Publisher: Podium Audio
Publication Date: October 27, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 9
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

They thought this was just another salvage job. They thought wrong.

An AI overseer and a human crew arrive on a distant planet to salvage an ancient UN starship. The overseer is unhappy. The crew, well, they're certainly no A-team. Not even a C-team on the best of days.
And worse? Urmahon Beta, the planet, is at the ass-end of nowhere. Everybody expects this to be a long, ugly, and thankless job.

Then it all goes disastrously wrong. What they thought was an uninhabited backwater turns out to be anything but empty. Megafauna roam the land, a rival crew with some terrifyingly high-powered gear haunts the dig site, and a secret that will change humanity forever is waiting in the darkness.

Stuck on this unmapped, hostile planet, lacking resources, and with tech built by the cheapest bidder, the salvage crew must engineer their way to payday...and beat Urmahon Beta before it kills them all.

Experience this space exploration adventure told from the perspective of a snarky artificial intelligence you won't soon forget.

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Content warnings: View Spoiler »

I have a thing for snarky AIs, and once I saw this was narrated by Nathan Fillion, of course I requested this audiobook.

“I’m surrounded by idiots.”

Amber Rose – called OC by his crew – is a snarky AI who used to be human. He’s a Buddhist who writes poems in his spare time (absolutely awful poems, by the way) and he’s slowly working his way up the rank of AIs. His latest mission is to oversee the salvage of a UN colony ship that crashed on Urmahon Beta. It’s definitely not a prestigious assignment, and his ragtag crew – Simon, Anna and Milo – are, well, not even the C team. Plus the ship that dropped them off, helpfully called “Ship,” and is supposed to be their backup if anything goes wrong is also not the brightest bulb. When OC asks her to alert him to anything unusual in the planet’s orbit, the Ship helpfully sends him info about the planet’s two moons. At first, OC is resigned to a boring few months of ordering around his idiot crewmates, but things gradually take a turn for the worse. There’s giant megafauna, not a lot of helpful resources near their landing site, and, oh, indications that they may not be alone on the planet.

“But now I know exactly how useful dumb things can be.”

I loved OC as a character – all the wonderful snark I was promised! – and I loved how he gradually came to care for each of his crew members, even the particularly annoying Milo. Each of the characters was distinct and it reflected in their relationships with OC. At the beginning, a large part of the book is spent talking about the various tech that makes their salvage mission possible, from creating their hab modules to growing potatoes, and this reminded me a lot about everything I loved about The Martian. But as the story progresses, through humor, to horror, to thriller, what seems on the surface to be a run-of-the-mill scifi survival story turns into something much deeper.

It’s hard to talk too much about what happens in the later half of the book without going into spoilers, but one of the concepts is that of a “literary machine” – a non-organic entity that’s evolved beyond simplistic if/then commands (looking at you, Ship) and can actually create, like OC’s poetry. It’s a concept that’s been articulated before, of course, but I was captivated by that particular word choice. And like OC’s poetry, the book is general is heavily influenced by Buddhism because of OC’s human upbringing, from the style of poetry to how he reacts to the world around him to his highly humorous curses. Most of my knowledge of Buddhism comes from a pan-Asian art class back in college and I think I would’ve appreciated some aspects of the book more if I’d been more familiar.

“May your most precious assets spontaneously turn into goats. May those goats be reborn as lettuce.”

Nathan Fillion is perfect as as the narrator as OC dovetails nicely with the usual sarcastic types he usually plays. The book is mostly told from OC’s POV, and I think the only places the narration didn’t work as well for me were when it briefly switched to other characters. While some of them felt well defined (Anna and Milo), Simon and some spoilery others didn’t. Besides that, I thought the narration was excellent, especially when dealing with some of OC’s prolonged monologues and the action segments.

Overall, this was a thought-provoking read, and one that I’m still thinking about. I will definitely be looking up more of the author’s work!

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