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Boneyards by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

And so, in this present tense, I set off to write this review. . .

Twenty five years ago
There will come a time when heroic reviewers will need a twin narrative thread so I plant this seed. . .

. . .about Boneyards by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (PYR, 2012), very much aware that were it not for plans carefully laid in the past. . .

18 March 3952 BC
The Venemous Bede looks back at one possible beginning point for all this. . .

I would not be in the position I am today. . .

Ten minutes ago
The beanstalk is now fully grown and I, Jack, can now climb up to Doubting Castle and begin my fight with Giant Despair.

. . .which is completely hacked off with the use of time in this book!

As I have commented elsewhere, I prefer books to be written in a simple linear form where we start at the beginning and arrive at the end. I am not averse to the odd flashback. I understand that, for narrative effect, an author may prefer to withhold key pieces of information and then reveal them for maximum dramatic effect. But this book does something particularly annoying. We have a real-time thread which takes Boss and her team of archaeologists and the surviving warriors on a search for the Fleet. But we also have Squishy’s Tale. This is broken into short chapters, some only three or four pages long. Chapters do not follow on from each other in time. We are backwards and forwards like yo-yos for no good narrative purpose.

Let’s start again. Captain Cooper of the Ivoire has commissioned Lost Souls to find old bases used by the Fleet. Despite the five thousand year gap, he hopes to pick up the trail and find whatever is left of the “Dignity” ships. The fact he may not find people he once knew or, indeed, fit into the current command hierarchy, is not a deterrent. He needs to occupy himself with the hope of rejoining them. Unfortunately, the bases seem to be have been destroyed. Signs that would have indicated a phased shut-down and withdrawal are missing. This is depressing and sours the relationship between Boss and Coop. Meanwhile, Squishy is on a one-woman campaign to eradicate the Enterran effort to understand and exploit “stealth technology”. She applies to the central research facility and, to her surprise, is admitted. Months later, she has a plan to destroy it without endangering lives. There’s just one problem. Quint, her ex-husband is also on the station and a senior anti-espionage agent. Fortunately, there’s one person from the old days who can carry a message from Squishy to Boss. Curiously, Turtle is even better equipped to peform the task than Squishy expected because she’s the new Julian Assange, ready to leak whenever it will do the most damage.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

When the two threads start to converge, Squishy has destroyed the space station but is on the run, while Boss and Coop are going deeper into unexplored regions of space where they find the Boneyard. This book poses far more interesting space opera questions than the previous books. When we we just diving into a single wreck or exploring a single underground facility, it was too easy to lose sight of the big picture. Although it’s not unusual for technology to fall out of favour when something new and better comes along, it’s very unusual to have an entire branch of technology disappear, namely not only the technology of the Dignity ships themselves, but also the technology of whatever ships were capable of defeating them. Under normal circumstances, the victorious ship design would then have become dominant and, in due course, have been refined into a five-thousand-year supership. Except it’s as if the human area of space went into a kind of Dark Ages where all the dominant space technology was lost. Since all this scientific achievement would have to be documented somewhere, it’s remarkable that nothing seems to have survived, even as mythology, to explain what happened.

If we apply the same scale to our human history and go back to 18 March 3952 BC (see, the date from my introduction did prove highly significant), our archaeologists could tell you almost exactly what it was like to live then or, if you prefer Bede’s calculation, you could rely on the Bible as a literal text. Either way, we can chart our development with all major events, for better or worse, still available to us. Yes, I accept this is only the history of one world and it would not be so easy across major planetary systems. Nevertheless, for the Enterran Empire to have forgotten what the stealth technology is capable of doing demonstrates a major anomaly. If it’s one thing we know most about, it’s how battles were fought and with what weapons. Militaristic states make a point of remembering how weapons work.

So the two narrative strands finally come together and we also get a major flashback to one of the earlier novels. The outcome is both sad and necessarily hard-nosed to force character development. Taking the longer view, I approve the way in which the broad narrative is developing. It’s evolving from an interesting story into high quality space opera. What it lacks is an intellectual framework. It’s event and character driven as we slowly see the present revealed through research into the past. As Boss says, she’s happiest when she’s dealing with the unknown and, in that respect, we’ve added a new unaligned dimension into the current mix. As long as the plot and its background continue to hang together, we could be seeing a major series emerging despite its slightly rocky beginnings in Diving into the Wreck and City of Ruins.

Artwork by Dave Seeley.

For reviews of other books by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, see:
City of Ruins
A Dangerous Road (writing as Kris Nelscott)
Diving into the Wreck
Duplicate Effort
Recovering Apollo 8

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