After the superb and emotional bombshell that was the Wildfire duology, I dove straight into this collection of stories eager to find out what was going to happen to our crew and the ship. I did expect a more character based story than "engineering problem of the week", but unfortunately, I was disappointed with how this turned out over the four stories.
Home Fires was a fairly decent start and we got some decent character development for "Core-Breach" Corsi. I did feel a bit let down throughout this story that Stevens didn't get more time in the limelight to develop his character as well, and also that we'd skipped the whole journey home, the initial shellshock of the survivors and their return to Earth. It also struck me as a little odd that the story's primary character was actually incapacitated for most of Wildfire, so experienced the least trauma firsthand.
That being said, I didn't mind that the majority of this story was told in flashback format as it was a fairly engaging tale and served to humanise Corsi more than we've seen previously.
Age of Unreason was also fairly entertaining as a straightforward SCE story, with a rather interesting and unique concept of using duplicates of yourself as a weapon, but at the cost of your sanity. Unfortunately, there wasn't much of a feeling of Abramowitz dealing with the events of Wildfire and Faulwell and Soloman spend so little time in the limelight as to be there just to make up the numbers of core SCE characters.
Balance of Nature is a story that gave some welcome development of P8 Blue and the Nasat world and culture, but again fell into the "standard SCE fare" category. I found my enjoyment and interest in this story waning at times because I was really hoping for a proper sequel to Wildfire by this point. Had this story appeared elsewhere in the series, I feel I would've enjoyed it a lot more.
Breakdowns is really the star of the collection though as we see Captain Gold and Gomez dealing with their feelings head-on, even coming into direct conflict with each other at one point. We got some decent development for Gold and really got inside his head to see how much importance he puts on family, whether this be his actual family or his crew. His feelings of guilt, sadness, even dejectedness really shine through. The scenes where Gold personally travels to meet the families of the dead crewmen were the kind of passages I'd really been hoping for throughout the collection.
I found it to be quite emotional and poignant that MacAllan, the spit-and-polish lieutenant who sacrificed his life to save Gold, turned out to be so lonely, with no contactable friends or family, and Gold's disappointment and sadness about this was a well executed part of the story as it really gets the reader to feel the loss with Gold.
The only bit that didn't quite work is when Gold goes out to the Gobi desert to visit the son of a fallen comrade and has a particularly bizarre exchange with him. As the crewman in question (apologies for not remembering the character's name) was not a major character and is now dead, I think it's probably unlikely that the reasons behind the son's cold and dismissive attitude will ever be addressed.
The cover art is also a bit misleading as, apart from a brief reference to a memorial service, we don't read about any of the crew, especially Duffy, having a funeral with friends and family gathered together - in my opinion, this is a big missed opportunity to continue to the emotional sacrifice David Mack gave us in Wildfire, part II.
The passages where the survivors all come together before shipping out on a rebuilt Da Vinci, with over half a crew of new faces, was a very satisfying conclusion to this tale, and I'm hoping the Aftermath collection picks up from where this left off as the crew still come to terms with what happened.
In closing, the Breakdowns collection was no worse than any other of the SCE collections, and ordinarily this probably would have got a 4 star rating. Unfortunately, it wasn't what I had hoped for considering how much the status quo changed with Wildfire.