Salvage is a new collection of short stories from Eric Brown, one of my favourite authors writing today. It is very much in the tradition of some of his previous collections (The Fall of Tartarus, Kethani) in that it is a chronological look at events, this time befalling the crew of the salvage ship A Long Way From Home. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to this book, that since I heard about the possibility of it a year or two back it was one I just knew I had to read, and that as a fan of Brown I may have rose-tinted glasses on when it comes to his novels. Be that as it may, Salvage is just what the doctor ordered, with stories delivering exactly what I expected, and others not quite hitting the mark.
So, without further ado, let's get into the nitty-gritty of Salvage: the stories themselves.
Dissimulation Procedure is the short opening story, introducing us to Ed and Ella. Ed, a starship pilot and owner of the salvage ship A Long Way From Home, meets Ella in a restaurant as she tries to hide from spider-drones that are following her, and promptly hires her as his co-pilot. This starts the ongoing linked stories of Salvage, and while a good introduction, this story is a little too short with very little explanation. The way Ed interacts with Ella doesn't feel right, seemingly trusting her straight away without question, and allowing her to brush aside his questions when he does finally raise them.
The Soul of the Machine
Following on immediately from Dissimulation Procedure, Karrie, the third crew-member, is untrusting of Ella, especially given her status as an AI construct. It is here that Brown starts to flesh out the characters some more, and my initial reservations from the first story were put to rest. With Ella's knowledge of wrecked and abandoned starships throughout human colonised space, the direction of the stories becomes clearer, opening up many possibilities.
Three's A Crowd
After the slow-ish start in the first two stories, things are starting to move along nicely. Now the introductions are made we're getting deeper into the relationships between Ed, Ella, and Karrie. With A Long Way From Home responding to a distress beacon, Three's A Crowd gives a better look at how the three main characters interact, their thoughts towards one another, and how they work together. It's self-contained, but a good step in the right direction.
The Manexan Exodus
Focusing on a mystery that many have pondered over for centuries, The Manexan Exodus is a nice little story much like I'm used to with Brown's work. It's nice in that it expands on Karrie's character from that of the third wheel, giving some more depth to her, while Ed and Ella take more of a back seat.
To All Appearances
Another story more to my liking, and more like I expected from this collection, and Brown. To All Appearances deals with exactly that, what appearances mean, and in this story it approaches it from two angles. While there is the bigger picture, there is also the more intimate and character focused aspect of appearances that allows Brown to look a little deeper into Ella's character.
Cold Testing is one of the Eric Brown stories that I love. It's got character, humanity, and emotion. Ed, Ella, and Karrie all play a large role in the story, and it helps in developing the relationship between the three, and plays on the friction too. Ella's status as an AI is one of the focal points, and the way that affects both Ed and Karrie is explored. It's interesting and heart-wrenching in equal measure, and one of the highlights of Salvage.
This story follows on almost directly from Cold Testing, with Ed, Ella, and Karrie making their way to the Shlocken system on a salvage mission. Examining the tenuous relationship between humans and the alien Shlocken, this is a good one, especially as it relates directly to salvaging, which is what I think I expected more of from the collection.
Incident on Oblomov
Now this is another one of those stories that I like, perhaps because of the subject matter rather than anything else. With religion playing a large role in the story, Incident on Oblomov is another story dealing with appearances and humanity. It's a good story with a very nice - if not entirely unexpected - twist at the end. Definitely one of my favourites here.
Laying the Ghost
This is a very heartfelt tale, the story of Katerina, one of the few survivors of an attack on the planet Serimion 25 years previous. I was unsure where Brown was taking the tale as it unfolded, and aspects of it started to raise questions - my need for more details, I suppose - but ultimately Laying The Ghost didn't need anything else. It was, to be fair, pretty perfect.
Salvage Rites is not so much a self-contained story, more like an opportunity for us to learn more of Ed and his past, and his decades long obsession with finding a particular ship. When the ship reappears in human space it opens the door for Ed to reveal more about himself, and in doing so puts the focus squarely on him, something that has been lacking in the stories. I'm not sure what I thought of Salvage Rites as there is no real conclusion to the story, and it's one of the weaker ones because of it.
End Game is exactly that, the end of our story. It's also a continuation of Salvage Rites, and both stories probably would have benefited from being combined into one, but that's just semantics. Suffice to say that it wraps up the story of Ed, Ella, and Karrie nicely, and in a way that suits. There is also a small Coda at the end, an opportunity for Brown to tie up the final loose ends and give full closure to Ed, Ella, and Karrie's story.
Salvage examines what it is to be human, and how an AI construct can fit in and be accepted. It's got some emotional stories wrapped up in sci-fi clothing, but ultimately it's character focused and delivers exactly what I expected from Eric Brown. Some are more successful than others, with only a couple - Dissimulation Procedure and Salvage Rites - that felt a little too weak for my liking. Ultimately, Salvage is a very good collection of stories that work even better as a whole, and is highly recommended.