RogerBW's Blog

Boneyards, Kristine Kathryn Rusch 03 July 2021

2012 science fiction, third of its series. "Boss" goes into abandoned ancient bases in search of clues to the present location of a nomadic fleet; her former employee "Squishy" is back working in the Empire's stealth technology project, as the only way of shutting it down once and for all.

Which is fine, there's good stuff happening here… but, well, I got into this series because of the wreck diving in space, and there's very nearly none of that at all.

If we've read the previous books we know what stealth tech is about, and we don't learn any more here. We know why it has a habit of going wrong and killing people. And the fundamental conflicts of the book can be summed up in a few paragraphs.

With those things out of the way, there should be room for a really interesting personal story or two, right? But that's not here either. There are internal and external conflicts that arise from those plot elements, but nobody learns by them or changes: I'm over here, you're over there, we disagree for pages on pages and at the end I'm still over here and you're still over there. So what was the point?

Stack with that the problem that Squishy's viewpoint passages are shuffled out of order, with chapters that jump to several different periods in her life to show how she got to where she is now, and this ends up being a book that's rather more work than the minimal reward justifies. (Particularly since we knew most of that already in less detail.) By the end, some of the big plot has progressed. We have a slight idea of the sort of thing that's going to happen next. But my feeling overall was… was that it? Well, that's 90,000 words of reading I'm not going to get back, for something that could have been done in a couple of short stories.

And it's not as though the words were gloriously written; I mean, Rusch isn't a bad stylist, but the prose isn't a joy in itself the way a really great writer can manage it. It's not amusing, it's not engaging, it gets the job done but it needs to have a job to do.

I'm making this sound terrible, but I've read much worse books. It's technically competent. Nobody acts wildly out of character. It's just dull. It feels like what you get when you have a deadline for a book and no inspiration. Even with this, I'm not going to give up on the series – though I am going try to track down some of the short stories and other non-novel material, because I'm increasingly feeling that Rusch is dragging out shorter narratives to fit into a paperback publishing format.

(Doubly not the place to start the series – although the technical points are recapped and the experienced SF reader won't be lost, there's no emotional weight to either protagonist if you haven't read the earlier books, and frankly if I'd started here I doubt I'd read another.)

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Previous in series: City of Ruins | Series: Diving Universe

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