Finely-tuned to the rhythm of sci-fi noir, Kali Wallace‘s latest novel, Dead Space blends speculative future and present reality in true sci-fi fashion. Thank you Berkley Books for the ARC!
|Series: –||Genre: Sci-Fi, Sci-Fi Noir|
|Date of Publishing: March 2, 2021||Trigger Warnings: Violence, war themes, genocide, colonialism, imperialism|
|Page count: 336||Publisher: Berkley Books|
An investigator must solve a brutal murder on a claustrophobic space station in this tense science fiction thriller from the author of Salvation Day.
Hester Marley used to have a plan for her life. But when a catastrophic attack left her injured, indebted, and stranded far from home, she was forced to take a dead-end security job with a powerful mining company in the asteroid belt. Now she spends her days investigating petty crimes to help her employer maximize its profits. She’s surprised to hear from an old friend and fellow victim of the terrorist attack that ruined her life—and that surprise quickly turns to suspicion when he claims to have discovered something shocking about their shared history and the tragedy that neither of them can leave behind.
Before Hester can learn more, her friend is violently murdered at a remote asteroid mine. Hester joins the investigation to find the truth, both about her friend’s death and the information he believed he had uncovered. But catching a killer is only the beginning of Hester’s worries, and she soon realizes that everything she learns about her friend, his fellow miners, and the outpost they call home brings her closer to revealing secrets that very powerful and very dangerous people would rather keep hidden in the depths of space.
“I kept thinking about that teacher lying to a roomful of children because he could not admit he had supported atrocities.”
Science-fiction is generally ascribed to the realm of speculative futures. Most times, the thought of spaceships, highly-advanced A.I., and power structures formed as consequences of interstellar gold rushes leads us to believe that because sci-fi often works at predicting outcomes, it deals mostly in things that are to be. I’ve certainly fallen into that wrongful correlation a couple of times.
But during my Read The Room conversation focusing worlds of science-fiction as explored by non-binary authors, I was swiftly (and rightly) corrected. The more I read in the genre, the more I realize the truth behind Joseph Tomaras’ quoting of Samuel R. Delaney, the assurance that “Science fiction is not about the future; it uses the future as a narrative convention to present significant distortions of the present…. Science fiction is about the current world – the given world shared by writer and reader.”
In that quote was one of my favorite things about Kali Wallace’s latest novel, Dead Space, a sci-fi noir set in a space station where a data analyst must investigate the sudden murder of an estranged friend.
I love murder mysteries in space and Wallace deftly builds an unknown threat prowling the confines of this constricted place. An enigma, a tense tone, carefully crafted atmospheres, Dead Space spins a rip-roaring whodunit about corporate despotism, the militarization of science, imperialism, and the potentiality of A.I..
Hester Marley is a queer disabled woman that the author fleshes out constantly through past and present interactions with others. Her physical disability is not a deterrent to the ruthless, isolating environment that a space station can become, it’s simply an ever-present reality of Hester’s life that the reader gets to experience.
A lot of disabled characters in SFF are either given a magical healing or a temporary pill that, for a conveniently allotted slot of time, centers a falsely supposed reader’s need to forget they’re reading a person with a disability, or that magical and/or futuristic environments have no room for these distinctions.
But Hester Marley’s disability is as much a part of her as it isn’t her wholeness, something I really loved. It’s never made a statement, and Hester herself is just a fleshed-out person with her own flaws whose very perspective sometimes twists other characters with her own interpretations.
It’s such a character-driven narrative that it intensifies the very disorientation of space and the tension that resurfaces from the mystery. Both Hester and the supportive characters brighten this very bleak but patently recognizable world, where mammoth corporations shackle individuals in poorly disguised —if at all— indentured servitude and societies sweep their warmongering History under rugs, for profit and comfort.
Clear-cut storytelling ensures the major plot points became, for the most part, and personally, predictable. My preferences lean more towards unpredictability but not every plot needs to be cloaked in subterfuge for a story to carry weight.
The power of Dead Space’s narrative is the inescapable analogy it draws with our current society. While exploring how greed, inequality, and bondage may be carried with us when we breach the boundaries of space, it imagines technology in that exciting way of science-fiction that pushes readers to dream.
This fast-acting standalone of realistic speculative fiction has propelled me to explore Wallace’s other works.