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Thursday, March 11, 2021

THE SALVAGE CREW • Review by Eric Dontigney

Title: The Salvage Crew

Author: Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

Publisher: Aethon Books, LLC

Length: 302 pages

Audiobook Publisher: Podium Audio

Audiobook Length: 8 hours and 21 minutes

Sales Link: https://www.amazon.com/Salvage-Crew-Yudhanjaya-Wijeratne-ebook/dp/B08J977YVQ

 

Note: This is a review of the audiobook version, so it will include references to the performance.

In Yudhanjaya Wijeratne’s, The Salvage Crew, we get dumped right into the action with an AI describing the sub-par and psychologically damaged crew for a salvage mission. Oh, a space adventure with a snarky machine intelligence, Murderbot-style. Cool. Wait, wait, no. That’s not a machine intelligence. It’s a digitized human consciousness that’s been loaded into this dropship/temporary habitat. I guess it’ll be a rumination about the nature of consciousness set against the backdrop of this salvage adventure. Wait, wait, no. There’s stuff on this planet that’s dangerous. I guess it’s a man and digitized consciousness vs nature survival story. Okay, I’ve got a handle on this thing now.

Wait, no, there are hostile cyborgs here as well. Oh, the company that launched this mission is constraining life-saving activities to keep costs down. Maybe this is a cleverly disguised deconstruction of capitalism and bureaucracy set against a multilayered backdrop of salvage adventure, rumination on consciousness, man and digitized human consciousness vs nature and cyborg bad guys? I can work with this. Wait, is that an alien structure I see in the distance?

You’d think that with all of this going on, The Salvage Crew would read like a hot mess of mixed themes, motifs, and tropes that will eventually collapse under the weight of all its pretentiousness. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would. Yet, Yudhanjaya Wijeratne sits before his keyboard and binds these disparate elements together like a master weaver at the loom. While it seems like this thing shouldn’t work, it does, and it works quite well at that.

Of course, the heart of the story is that of the digitized human consciousness who is at least nominally in command of this salvage operation. Unlike so many machine consciousnesses in science fiction literature, this digitized human consciousness retains much of his humanity. He spends a disproportionate amount of his time trying desperately to keep the human crew alive in the face of a mission that has gone wildly, catastrophically wrong. At one point, he even rules-lawyers the AI of the orbiting company ship into doing what he wants, even though the company would normally forbid the expensive action.

Despite his near-constant efforts to preserve the lives of his crew, the escalating despair of the digitized consciousness grows palpable as the situation deteriorates. This despair is mirrored in the increasingly erratic behavior of the human crew who are all too well aware they are likely screwed and never getting off the planet. And just what the heck is going on with the alien structure?

Adding to all of this is the vocal performance of science fiction fan favorite, Nathan Fillion. While the production values are a little uneven in places, Fillion brings his trademark combo of snark and empathy to the reading to excellent effect. If you’re one of those people who find listening to books easier than blocking out time to physically read them, Fillion’s performance won’t disappoint.

The Salvage Crew is heir to an older tradition of science fiction that you don’t see much these days outside of authors like Neal Stephenson, David Brin, and William Gibson. It is science fiction that marries adventure with serious philosophical considerations, science realism with scientific speculation, and an abiding belief that humanity means something more than a human body. If this book isn’t already on your TBR list, you should put it on there immediately. 

—Eric Dontigney

 


Eric Dontigney is the author of the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. Raised in Western New York, he currently resides near Dayton, OH. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally at ericdontigney.com.

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