Dead Space by Kali Wallace
Trigger Warning: claustrophobia, murder, PTSD
We always had a choice. It was just that the companies we worked for were very good at making sure all of our choices were bad ones.
Hester Marley used to have a plan for her life. She was going to be a colonist on Saturn’s Moon Titan. She had created the most advanced explorer AI the universe had ever seen. And then, in a tragic accident, it was all gone. Mired in debt from the company that rescued her and still recovering from her injuries, she’s stuck in a dead-end job pulling security. Until one of her fellow survivors sends her a cryptic email—and is murdered. Hester finagles her way onto the investigation, and discovers not everything is as it seems…
WHY IS NO ONE ELSE TALKING ABOUT THIS?!?!
I need everyone else to get on this!!!
People who lived under constant surveillance either forgot or stopped caring that they were being watched at all times.
This book takes the issues of unchecked capitalism and fucking goes with the natural progression (deprogression?) of life in space moderated by companies and corporations.
It’s several centuries into the future. Earth exists, but many have migrated to the solar system—although after the brutal war with Mars (which was more of an unequal battle called a war that was instead a massacre and massive violation of human rights), the solar system is mainly ruled by the leaders of the moon and the mega corporations who rule the mining and extraction operations within the asteroid belt.
Hygiea was very much a company town: company owned, company operated, company surveilled and secured.
Each mining station is run by the corporation, with Overseer AIs in charge of ensuring their human inhabitants are kept alive and the equipment kept operating (except certain life support functions, because the AIs are growing smarter despite the checks and balances and limitations).
Think about the old mining towns of the not-so-distant past, which were fairly deregulated and owned and operated by the company, which had carte blanche authority in their area (kinda like what the state of Nevada is proposing for some of their areas in order to entice business). The companies have full reign of everything that happens within their territories, and keep their employees under as much debt and contracting as possible in order to secure talent.
Because that’s the natural progression of things with capitalism—there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Hester is experiencing the full weight of that. Parthenope was the company who rescued her and performed all of the (expensive, experimental and unconsented) repairs on her body, and charged her for the cost. But instead of placing her where her skills are most needed—as in, putting one of the most experienced AI programmers with the Overseer AIs—she plonked into security. She does her job, same as everyone else, despite the stares at her metal prosthetics and the pain they cause.
Sigrah knew the rules for succeeding as a Parthenope foreperson: everything good that happened on the station was her doing, whereas everything bad was the fault of troublemaking crew.
Enter the murder.
Hester gets a weird message from one of her former colleagues, and is mulling about how to respond to it—because David got a lot of the details of the memories he shared wrong—when she learns he’s been killed on the tiny mining station of Nimue.
She arranges to get on the investigation team, and it should be a simple thing of looking at the security data and picking up whoever of the remaining eleven members did it, because that’s how murders are investigated now, when she discovers that the data for the entire hour surrounding the murder are gone. They never existed.
And the Overseer AI is acting strange.
Soon, Hester is struggling to keep herself alive while trying to figure out who killed David—she’s surrounded by reticent miners, an aggressively unforthcoming foreperson, and a killer among them.
Until she begins to think someone else is aboard Nimue.
Whatever usual parameters defined friendships, relationships, or friendly but distant exes, those rules didn’t apply anymore, not in the asteroid belt, where everybody was counting the dollars in their personal debt and the days on their corporate contracts, and information was more valuable than human life.
There’s not much more of the plot I can reveal without massive spoilers, but there are so many twists and turns and foreshadowing and red herrings that it’s a wild ride throughout.
Plus, there is a super duper scary scene in the warehouse, which captures my fears of being along but not really alone perfectly.
And there’s the idea that Hester is holding back—despite the flashbacks, despite the first person POV, despite everything she is not laying all of her cards on the table. She’s been through so much and learned to suppress her scientist’s mind and mourn the loss of everything, including her AI Vanguard (her interactions with Vanguard are so fucking precious—she literally is just like make me proud, kid and her little baby does just that), that she doesn’t see the point of moving forward or having dreams of anything else. Her dream has been violently exploded, and she feels responsible (she been on the hiring panel for one of the terrorists), and there is nothing left for her beyond debt and death.
Plus, she’s dealing with her disabilities, which never go away or stop paining her. Same with her PTSD. Additional rep is that she’s a lesbian, and one of the investigators on the team is her something-ex, although she’s got too much baggage and too much grief to be able to move forward with someone. There is more rep in the book as well, with LGBTQ+ characters aplenty, and people of color, and an interesting display of classism and intelligence. The lead investigator is a Martian, and has a very interesting background I wish had been explored a lot more—along with the dynamics of who settled Mars (based on his name it makes the ensuing atrocities that much more insidious, and the prison ships and other concentration camps were that much more terrifying), the lawyer is a close relative of the Parthenope owners, and another Nimue crew member is a daughter of the rulers of the Lunar Colony.
And there are the different kinds of AI and what it means to have artificial intelligence running things—from the inquisitive Vanguard (destroyed) to the bland Overseer AIs (who can be…weirdly passive aggressive).
Of course, I can’t talk about my two absolute favorite characters, because that would be a spoiler.
Plus there’s so much more, and I could unpack all day, because Wallace does a fucking fantastic job of writing capitalism off the rails—it’s all the more terrifying because it could absolutely happen, and in many of the instances has already happened.
Space and location just become a setting, albeit a terrifying one. Because who doesn’t want to be trapped on an isolated rock in space with a faulty AI and a killer on the loose?
So why check this out:
- Scary space capitalism (think Murderbot but without Murderbot’s humor)
- A tense, murder-mystery thriller
- Claustrophia-inducing atmosphere
- Space stations operated by people who don’t give a fuck and AIs who kinda do…unless they’re sabotaged
- MC just trying to pluck along and reduce some debt, dammit
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
Dead Space released March 2, 2021, from Berkley