City of Ruins by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
City of Ruins (PYR, 2011) is a sequel to Diving into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and, as such, it’s continuing the development of the “Diving” universe. The first novel was a fix-up expansion of two novelettes published in Asimov’s and this continues the pattern with a goodly sized chunk of this story being published as “Becoming One With the Ghosts”, also in Asimov’s.
So we’re into a twin-strand narrative with the Boss leading a dive underground and Coop watching events unfold (pun intended) on the bridge of his Dignity Vessel. Although I think this better than Diving into the Wreck, it’s all rather ponderous and slow-moving. The last sequence where the two strands merge feels like an afterthought. It’s somewhat out of character with the rest of the book and not terribly credible as a capital city responds on a policing or military basis to a possible threat. Taking the dive first, I find it frustrating that there’s been no real attempt made to link this to the first fix-up. Although there’s a gesture to confirm a change in the nature of the diving organisation from small- to large-scale, there’s absolutely no description of any fallout from the events of the first book. The dispute over the Dignity Vessel must have produced some political and military responses on both sides. Books in a universe should not be written as if in a vacuum. There are fundamental laws of cause and effect to obey and divorcing events from their context and expecting readers to blindly accept completely independent episodes is insulting. An author should take the time to think through the implications of what has happened in the first episode and then give the readers the benefit of this creativity.
So here we are in Vaycehn on the planet Wyr chasing down speculation there may be stealth technology in operation. Hmmm. So if Ilona thinks there’s a chance of finding old technology to examine, why hasn’t the Empire shut the whole place down? The fact of the inexplicable tunnels and the death holes should be enough to alert their science teams there’s something unusual in play. Yet all this is brushed quietly under the carpet with odd comments that the local government keeps it quiet to avoid damaging their tourist trade. This just makes it worse. If tourists may hear about the weird events, why has the Empire’s sophisticated intelligence service not heard and acted?
Anyway, once Boss is in action, she’s moving with the speed of paint drying to explore inch by inch. Not for her the big picture WOW factor. It’s all meticulous work. Seen by Coop, the team is wearing space suits because of the high levels of nanotech particles in the atmosphere. Now, as one born in a coal mining community, this rings alarm bells. I grew up surrounded by men dying of emphysema because of their exposure to dust. If this vast room is visibly affected by clouds of particulates, atmosphere suits are essential to prevent lung damage. Yet there’s no comment by Boss and her team on the volume of dust piling up on the floor and the equipment. Nobody has to sweep the dust away to read signs written on the floor or to see some of the screens are still working. Or is all this technology self-cleaning given that the tunnels themselves are self-repairing? The crew of the ship take no precautions when they emerge. Apparently, their human lungs can breathe visible concentrations of dust without damage. I could go on but this issue is symptomatic of a general failure to think about the issues and deal with the consequences.
As to Coop, he seems intent on spending endless hours on the bridge without a break. Even Captain Jean-Luc Picard was seen to lie down every now and again. When there’s no obvious threat, the bridge can be slimmed down to a few key officers with instructions to wake the Captain if anything interesting happens. There’s also very little evidence the language department is even vaguely competent. I haven’t read “Becalmed” so I don’t know what Mae and her team did to upset the Quurzod, but their performance in this first-contact situation is less than stellar. It’s completely illogical to leave it to Perkins to work with Al-Nasir. A trained linguist should set out to learn the target language by systematic interrogation of a willing native speaker. Wasting two weeks on this exercise and then insisting on two hours to set up a trip to the surface compounds the illogicality of Coop’s decision-making.
None of these individual problems make this a bad novel, but the general lack of attention to detail prevents this book from being more involving. As it is, we have sexual attraction through mutual observation and probable romance at the end. To me, this is a tiresome distraction. I’m far more interested in the problem solving on both sides and, to be honest, neither side comes out of it well. Boss fails to have any empathy in her explanation of the ship’s situation and the surrounding politics. Coop seems little more than a prop placed on the bridge, left to observe and react to events around him. His passivity for the first two-thirds of the book defuses any tension. Although he does become slightly more rounded when he gets to the surface, it’s all rather artificial and he’s still very much second fiddle to Boss.
City of Ruins can be read as a stand-alone because there’s little continuity between it and Diving into the Wreck. Some of the social dynamics in both teams are reasonably well done but, though an improvement on Diving into the Wreck, the result is still less than impressive.
Dave Seeley produced the jacket art.
City of Ruins won the Endeavor Award 2012.
For reviews of other books by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, see: