Diving into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Habits are those curious routines through which we live our lives. Some have become so ingrained we are hardly aware of them. Others have been highlighted as undesirable traits (wives and children most often speak the truth here) and so we struggle to break from the past. Having learned the art of reading, I then read everything from the dense text on the breakfast cereal box to the latest comics. Now into my second childhood, I still pick up any reading material to hand. Having been in publishing, I also read every printed word in and on a book from the blurbs to the acknowledgements. So I want to start off this review by quoting the author’s bio on the end papers.
“Her novels have made the bestseller lists — even in London — and have been published in fourteen countries and thirteen different languages.”
Well, would you believe it. I had no idea the folk who live in London could read, let alone organise something as demanding as a bestseller list. The arithmetic is also a bit screwy. Fourteen countries and thirteen languages. This suggests only one overlap of a language like English. That would mean Australia and Canada and. . . Wait, I get it. London is not a country so it does not count. Then to sell to twelve countries each with their own language. That’s going some. There was no overlap of French or Spanish or Portuguese? All those translation fees for individual countries. That’s inefficient, really cutting into the publisher’s bottom line.
Anyway, the rest of the book, Diving into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, manages to avoid such petty-minded controversies. This is a slight change of style for the author. Not only is it a fix-up of two previously published works, but it also avoids long paragraphs wherever possible. I was reading a piece of educational research charting the decline in reading skills in the developed world. Not only is vocabulary shrinking, but a significant number of adults find it too challenging to read “long” sentences like this one. Yes, even a simple two clause format defeats many modern readers. Shucks. (One word sentences being the best to convey meaning where an emoticon cannot be displayed). It’s actually quite fascinating to see so many one and two sentence paragraphs collected together to make a novel, and certainly makes for faster reading. None of this following from one line to the next. Everything is broken down into simple word bites.
So let’s get down to it. As a story, it’s actually quite pleasing. The central character in this first-person narrative is a woman, haunted by the memories of watching her mother die. This traumatic experience caused her alienation from the rest of the family and her adoption of a career where, for the most part, she can avoid dependence on others. Somewhat ironically, she is a wreck diver where she often assumes responsibility for the safety of others. Although more active in her exploration of history, she is cast in the same mould as Jack McDevitt’s Alex Benedict, finding and exploring lost ships. This also places her in the salvage and adventure tourism business. It’s an interesting notion that, as and when space ships become as routine as cars, the thrill seekers will want to free dive in wrecked ships. It beats bungy jumping in a vacuum, I suppose.
Anyway, when she finds this centuries-old warship, she puts a team together to explore it. Almost immediately, we are into McGuffin territory. By a magical coincidence, one of her team happens to know that this ship probably contains lost “stealth technology” and she argues passionately in favour of destroying the ship before governments get their hands on it. Knowledge that has been lost should not be recreated through this archaeological discovery. The stalemate balance of power could be upset. Thus, we are off and running with danger in the dives and the subsequent investigation of the damaged wreck.
I suspect that if the author had started with a blank screen to write a novel, it would have bridged rather more smoothly between the major plot elements. As it is, one ends and, with a few words explaining the passage of time, we jolt into the next episode. I would have been interested in an exploration of the fall-out from the first sequence. There would be formal inquiries into the deaths, possible prosecution for failing to report the wreck as being of historical or military value, discussion of whether it was possible to lock them up as traitors to prevent the fact of the discovery from being publicised, and so on. As it is, the implication seems to be that the wreck’s discovery has been publicised. So why has the wreck not been moved to a different location? It cannot be so inherently unsafe that a tug could not tow it to a place where it could be kept secure from journalists, spies from the opposing governments, and the generally curious. More to the point, I seriously doubt whether the boredom of the actual guards would lead to the ship being left completely unguarded. This is a major plank in one faction’s military renaissance. It would be guarded at all times.
Although some of the plotting has some vaguely Machiavellian qualities to it, I find the whole somewhat superficial and unsatisfying. This is not in the same league as the Retrieval Artist novels.