Review: ‘The Birth of the Dread Remora’
Possibly the very best thing for science fiction fans about the so-called digital publishing revolution is the tremendously lowered bar to entry. Concepts and approaches that traditional publishers might deem too risky to fly in the fickle retail market are finding new life on platforms like Amazon Kindle and Smashwords. Take, for example, The Scattered Earth project: three writers (friends of ComicMix Aaron Rosenberg, Steven Savile, and David Niall Wilson), three novels, three worlds in a shared universe that will only later make the links between stories apparent.
I had the chance to read Rosenberg’s <a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B004LP2GXE/associatizer-20/ Birth of the Dread Remora</a>, the first book in The Scattered Earth cycle, and I have to say – thank goodness for the rise of the ebook, because otherwise this might never have seen the light of day. It’s a rollicking space opera about the adventures of the Remora, the first-ever space vessel designed by a presumably post-apocalyptic Earth-based race of amphibious humans that resembles the Nautilus more than it does the Enterprise.
The major problem with the novel is that the story never quite lives up to the weirdness of the premise. Rosenberg teases Earth’s fate as a vast undersea empire, but never dwells on a single scene long enough to develop its concepts and conceits more fully. It’s especially frustrating when he describes the crewmen of the as playing cards or making a meal. As a reader, I want to know more about how these guys are different from humanity, not how much they are the same.
On the other hand, that approach keeps the plot cracking, which is always a plus when you’re telling a swashbuckling tale of honor and bravery on the high seas – even if in this case, the high seas refers to the vacuum of space. Protagonist Nathaniel Demming is cut from the same cloth as classic naval hero Horatio Hornblower, doing his best with a commission he never wanted on an adventure that’s everything he hoped it would be and more.
His struggle to maintain honor and keep his cool as things begin to go wrong on the voyage forms the emotional core of the story. And the title refers to an interesting third-act plot twist that I, for one, am greatly intrigued by.
The real trouble, narratively speaking, is Demming’s relationship with Amelia, the Remora’s chief engineer. We never really learn about her or her history (though we do get many mentions of how pretty her eyes are), so overall investment in seeing how their mutual attraction will turn out tends to run low. Not that there’s really any question, with Amelia seemingly glad to respond to his slightest flirtation. All the same, Demming seems to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for her approval over the course of the not-very-long novel.
Moreover, the aliens that the Remora runs across in its journey seem to be taken directly from the dime-store Sci-Fi novel playbook, with the humans acting as the only moral middle ground between space pirates and raiders and super-evolved sentient, benevolent. gas clouds. Even with only a small handful of alien creatures introduced, none of them especially stand out in my mind as being nearly as original as the water-breathing humans that discovered them.
In short, The Birth of the Dread Remora is merely really good where it could have been great. If and when Rosenberg decides to revisit the crew of the Remora, I’d like to see more of a focus on really strange new worlds and exploration and less of one on flirtation. That said, I’m hooked, and I can’t wait to see where The Scattered Earth will go from here.