Infinity Plus Books, 2013, 244 p
My copy of Salvage is fruit of my recent visit to see the author. He is a very nice lad.
The book is the collected stories of Salvageman Ed, pilot of an old tub called A Long Way From Home in a universe with interstellar travel, AIs in human form and where there have been female popes. Brown’s recurring theme of religion appears frequently, as do enigmatic aliens and betrayals of various sorts.
Most of the tales are light-hearted action adventure stories with pulpy overtones but a few explore what it means to be human and what love is. An afterword reveals the second last of the full stories was the first to be written.
When Brown does stuff like this it is always entertaining. Don’t expect depth all the time though.
Dissimulation Procedure. On Sinclair’s Landfall, under the yellow-blue light of Procyon, Ed is approached by a beautiful young woman, Ella, wanting a job as a co-pilot. Ed’s shipmate Karrie is suspicious of the newcomer who is not, of course, what she seems. The story sets up sequels nicely.
The Soul of the Machine. Using Ella’s knowledge of the Hayakawa Organisation, whose property as an AI she is, the salvage crew set off for Dzuba and an abandoned wreck. In their pursuit is a Watson Interceptor of the Organisation, which is duly defeated.
Three’s a Crowd. Ella picks up a distress signal. The stranded ship contains a strange gestalt alien up to no good.
The Manexan Exodus. Karrie persuades Ed to take a trip to Menaxa where, she says, her brother Jens is trying to find out how the inhabitants vanished. It doesn’t end well.
To All Appearances. Lured to the planet Bokotar by an AI disguised as a Denebian, Ed is saved from death in a strange religious ceremony by Ella’s consciousness downloaded into a spider-drone. Ella’s disposal of the drone afterwards reinforces her non-humanity.
Cold Testing is a sort of 12,000 mile service for spaceships done on a planet with temperatures “fifty degrees below.” While A Long Way From Home is undergoing the procedure AI Ella decides to do a cold test on herself.
Salvaging Pride. The ship travels to an ice moon of a planet circulating Epsilon Centauri to salvage a hundred year old wreck. The wreck surprisingly contains the cryogenically suspended body of a Schlocken – one of the inhabitants of the Epsilon Centauri system who are at war with the humans of nearby Acrab. The situation is resolved unexpectedly.
Incident on Oblomov. A quick maintenance job on Oblomov, a planet where the Second Son of God is hauled out of cryonic suspension every twenty years to give his latest pronouncement, is interrupted when the totalitarian government requisitions the ship. Ella’s AI capabilities come in useful.
Laying the Ghost. A woman in an AI enhanced warware suit asks to be taken to the planet Serimion where she was born and her parents were killed in an invasion by the Kha. She is a strange entity indeed.
Salvage Rites. Ed comes across his salvage life’s dream, the returned St Benedictus, sent out by a sceptical Vatican centuries before to seek out the source of coded tachyon vectors that spoke of God-like beings who’d seeded the galaxy with life. The returnees have found God, of a sort. Ella sacrifices herself to protect the crew from contamination.
End Game. Two copies of her personality that Ella left in the smartcore of A Long Way From Home are given to Ed so he can choose one to upload into another body. The Hayakawa Organisation intercepts the process. Ed buys Ella’s freedom.
Coda. Ed and Ella meet one last time.