Crash by Guy Haley
Crash by Guy Haley (Solaris, 2013) is an interestingly dense science fiction novel. The increasing norm has been for books to build up broad brush strokes of future history, glossing over the mechanics of how humanity arrived in the given situation and the extent to which it was intentional. This novel takes a more nuts and bolts approach to the construction of the near-future start for the story in which wealth has been hijacked by a tiny percentage of the world’s population and the economy shaped to maximise growth of value for that percentage without regard to the needs or interests of anyone else. In effect, the wealthy have taken control of the production of wealth as a commodity, manipulating and controlling investment through a semi-automated Market system, i.e. the Market is theoretically run by artificial intelligence with human math wonks jacked into the system as monitors to detect abnormalities in trends. Technology has advanced along reasonably predictable lines with genetic manipulation able to produce “better” humans or artificially constructed beings of dubious legal status, cybertronics, robotics and AIs create roles for “machines” in key positions, and interstellar space travel possible using colony ships and hibernation technology.
At its heart, this book is about the structuring of societies. Starting from the lowest unit size, this is family that grows into kin group that becomes a community. While small, the divergences from the prevailing norms are likely to be small and manageable. But as communities link up to become broader social structures, it becomes more difficult to manage the differences. Some level of conflict is almost inevitable as the usual seven deadly sins pollute relationships. No matter how much we hope people will rub along together, “leaders” emerge and insist on establishing hierarchies. Over time, the paraphernalia of power, privilege and wealth emerges. After that, little can effect change short of a revolution. So that, in a nutshell, captures what this book is ultimately about. If Earth is already stripped of its resources and exploitation of the solar system is not going to provide sufficient resources to make habitable space available for a reasonable quality of life, the only option is to go somewhere else. This represents an opportunity to upend the status quo. Although the existing hierarchy might wish to export itself to a number of colonies where the same social structures are preserved, the interest groups slightly lower down in the hierarchy might see this as an opportunity to sabotage the old and start again. The problem, as always, is that revolution rarely comes without loss of life and hardship.
The title of the book tells it all. With colony starships being built, we watch a shadowy organisation recruit a man to be a saboteur on one ship. It’s not certain but it would be reasonable to assume the process is replicated so that each ship has at least one person who can act. We then watch the man emerge from hibernation at an intermediate point during the voyage and affect the programming of the central computer system running his ship. When people begin to wake several centuries later than they expected, they find themselves in the wrong place and about to crash. The crisis has come with the surviving officers forced to make decisions with the two sons of the family that paid for the ship. This presages the physical and social crash that will change their lives.
The problem with all this is that the structure of the narrative is completely unbalanced. Guy Haley spends an inordinate amount of time crashing the colony ship into the planet, but throws away the murder of Karl Njalsson. Are we supposed to think Hwang and the other Market watchers would not investigate the cause of the death, recover what work Karl was doing and see motive? Why is the family background for Dariusz not developed? The way the macro economy works is not explained. Through Karl and Dariusz, we would have had a chance to see how they were able to “buy” what they needed, what services were available, and so on. As it is we have Karl killed and see the suicide of Dariusz’s wife mentioned and forgotten in a paragraph. His son is shuffled on and off stage.
Buried in this book is a very good duology but nobody told our author to stop what he was doing and develop the story in a disciplined way. He has a very pleasing eye for detail and can write big set pieces. All he needed was for someone to sit him down and make him see the potential in what he had imagined. The primary driver in the first book should have been the murder and subsequent investigation. We could see the plot developed to recruit people and insert them into the colony ships. The family relationships between Yuri, Leonid and their father could have been set out more clearly, with the roles of Corrigan and the fascinating Anderson brought more clearly into focus. Working along these lines, the first book ends with the death of the police officers investigating the murder of Karl and the colony ships taking off. The second book starts with the crash and then deals with survival on the planet. I blame the editorial staff at Solaris. They knew or ought to have known Guy Haley had taken on all these different writing tasks and did nothing to keep him on track. I suspect all four of the books due this year will show the same lack of focus. Writers should not work in a vacuum. They should have editorial guidance to get the best results. Otherwise, as in Crash, we get ideas thrown out but not developed, we have technology not explained, and we have a macroeconomy introduced but no indication as to how it actually works in lives at different points in the social hierarchy. This could have been a great pair of books but Crash ends up a crash.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.