I’ve got surprisingly little to say about BONEYARDS that I didn’t touch on somewhat during my review of DIVING THE WRECK. (Go ahead and check it out now, I’ll wait) If you enjoyed what writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch was doing in WRECK there’s nothing here that’s going to send you screaming into the hills.
BONEYARDS is the third book in what Wikipedia tells me is called the The Diving Universe. I was going to go with Stealth-i-verse, but as people are quite fond of reminding me it’s not all about me.
Using stealth technology recovered by her Lost Souls corporation Boss leads a team into the far reaches of known space in search of information about the makers of the Dignity Vessels, their terrifying ancapa drives and where they’ve vanished too. With the time displaced crew of the Ivoire at her side, Boss hopes to find tangible indications of why the remnants of the mysterious Fleet have disappeared. The only problem is the last recorded sightings of the Fleet were over 5000 years ago. Boss’s only hope may be ancient graveyard of derelict stealth vessels protected by an unseen force field and millennia of superstition.*
Meanwhile back in the Enterran Empire one of Boss’s oldest friends is in danger. Squishy has vowed to destroy all the empire’s research into the dangerous stealth technology. Unbeknownst to Boss, Squishy has put a small team of her own together and used her position as the Empire’s former head of stealth tech research to gain access to its testing facilities. When Squishy is captured after blowing up a research base Boss has to make a decision between continuing her mission or helping her friend.
There’s a structural problem at the heart of this book that make it hard really lose yourself in the story. A healthy portion of Squishy’s story is told in flashbacks. This wouldn’t be a problem if Rusch had chosen a specific starting point in Squishy’s backstory and then developed it chronologically from that point onward. Instead Rusch chose to bounce back and forth along around personal Squishy’s history, muddying the forward progression of the story and frustrating me as a reader.
Now I can glean why Rusch has chosen to approach the story this way. Part of it is reflective of the character’s emotional state and part of it is straight forward narrative cause and effect. In the present, Squishy’s painful encounter with an old lover has caused her to reminisce about their past together. Emotion, being terribly disrespectful of narrative flow, causes Squishy to dwell on one painful memory after another, not always in chronological order.
As the book went on, and more plot points and distinct flashbacks were introduced, I found myself confused as to what specific time period Squishy was recalling. Almost every time we left Boss’s story to check in with Squishy I’d have to do a quick mental scramble to try and piece together exactly where we were on her personal timeline. It wasn’t a particularly difficult task, but the denser and more complicated the story got, it increasingly became a very aggravating one.
My enjoyment of overall story was being constantly limited by having to run through a mental checklist of ‘The Personal Life of Squishy”. (Doing a quick flip through the book I notice that Squishy’s story jumps around 7 distinct time periods, some separated by only a month, try keeping all that straight in your head) I’m all for changing up the structure of a book to keep things new and interesting, but unfortunately in his case playing fast and loose with the timeline poisoned the entire book because every time I had to read a Squishy chapter it was the emotional equivalent of eating your greens.
Aside from that small but important aspect I don’t have much to add.
Rusch keeps the same measured emotional tonality that drew me into her first books. Only now she’s managed to extend the metaphor of the lonely pursuit of understanding history by wreck diving in space to a more terrestrial setting by looking at the past through archeological exploration.
Rusch also has a slight tendency to over explain her dialogue a bit. Entire conversations will be filtered through Boss’s perceptions and then analyzed and expounded upon to the reader, presumably to make sure we understand precisely the unspoken undercurrents at play here. I would have appreciated a little less handholding and a little more freedom to piece together the delicate interrelations at play between the characters all on my own.
But all my nitpicking aside I’d still highly recommend BONEYARDS to anyone looking for science fiction that manages to set aside some of the more familiar and well-worn tropes. In the constant sci-fi tug of war between character building and strange science, BONEYARDS comes down firmly on the side of its characters, without sacrificing the things that makes sci-fi so interesting. There’s a lot building up in the background of this series and Rusch is clearly using this book as the jumping off point for something really big in her upcoming book(s). I look forward to seeing where she takes it.
*The titular BONEYARDS which only show up for a dozen pages or so before being abandoned for other plot concerns. A point I still find baffling, considering that Rusch thought the Boneyards were so important she named the book after them.