On of my all time favorite authors recently did a re-release of one of her original books, Crudrat. She did a little reworking of it to fit it into her Tinkered Stars verse (The Fifth Gender and other forthcoming novels). I finally had a chance to get down and read it and it was so, so good.
Crudrat follows young (12-13ish) Maura, a ‘reject’ in the society of the Wheel. Reject, in this case, means her body rejected the typical implant that triggers the genetic modifications all Wheel citizens go through. The implant covers every facet of their life. It tells computers who you are, who your family is, serves as your banking hub and access point for many other things such as ships or personal weapons. Without an implant, you can’t exist in this society.
Since implants in Wheel society apparently are done in the 5-6ish range, kids whose bodies reject them are then themselves rejected. There is no social safety net. There are no orphanages, no charities. If you’re lucky, you can get a job as a crudrat, a child who is small enough and spry enough to work the tunnels of the Wheel (I’m honestly not quite sure if the Wheel is the space station or if the space station is just one part of Wheel space), cleaning up the toxic crud (dark matter particles) that fuel space born travel (which I found absolutely fascinating!). These abandon kids run through tunnels with whirling blades called scythers (and all I could really picture was the chompers from Galaxy Quest, but hey), cleaning blue crud with the help of small animals called murmels (I feel like these are kind of monkey like things, the way they’re described).
Once you get too old (read: too large, too slow), your license is pulled and you’ll either die of starvation or get spaced. This does not endear the Wheel to me, at all. 0 out of 10, would not want to be in Wheel space. At any rater, Maura is the best crudrat on the station, but she’s getting too old for the game at 12-13. Her license is pulled at the beginning of the book and she tries to figure out where to go from there.
To her luck and astonishment, her friend and fellow crudrat – Rees – shows her an actual alien ship in one of the landing bays. Shenanigans ensue and Maura ends up rescuing the alien from that ship. Since he now owes her, and his society is big on trade/honor, he takes her with him when he leaves.
Fuzzy, as Maura calls him, is from an ice planet and he ends up taking them to one of their outposts, which is basically a chunk of ice/rock floating around in space. Their tech is apparently superior to the Wheel tech, at least in some ways. They don’t have implants like the Wheel does, so they and their coalition have never gotten a spy into Wheel society. (Wheelers are extremely xenophobic)
Fuzzy’s people are an interesting people. They pride themselves on being open minded and honorable. Maura is shocked by how many different kinds of aliens she sees on the station, all of them treated well. Children are not allowed to use first person (I/me) and no one calls another by their given name. They’re all given nicknames (you can’t choose, so Fuzzy’s people essentially call him guinea pig). Trade and barter are the systems of economics and no one likes to leave a trade open ended (that is, one person is waiting to get their part of the deal). It’s really interesting and I hope that the Tinkered Stars series goes more into that. I definitely hope she goes more into that in the future.
In order to stay in this new place, Maura must find a place she belongs. This is more than just a job. It’s more like a calling. There are people there meant to be warriors. People meant to be tradesmen. People meant to be leaders. She can’t just stay there for free, nor would she want to. Her buddy Fuzzy pushes for her to be made wari (warrior) because that’s what he wants to be. And because they’re bonded (that is, family of a sort) and underage, they have to go together. They can’t be separated.
Unfortunately for wari, it seems like what’s best for Maura is something called a countervail. This is a sort of spy or lone operator. They’re not very well thought of by Kill’ki (I think that’s what they’re called, I’ll have to re-read to really remember) society. They’re a communal society, where everything is done for everyone and not the individual. This means that Fuzzy has to go with her. He’s gutted, because he wanted to be a wari like his mother, but he’s broken too many rules and his gens (family or clan) can no longer turn a blind eye to it.
The book ends there, before Maura and Fuzzy actually go to countervail training or work. I can see where this might be the end of Maura’s story, but I genuinely hope she comes back. She was interesting, and I’d love to see Wheel taken down a peg or two because seriously, that society is just plain UGH. I’d also love to see some of her back story. One never knows with Miss Gail, though. Maybe we’ll see her, maybe we won’t.
I did see a hint of Lord Akeldama in one of the characters, Dr. Sillous. The use of colorful and/or flowery nicknames. It gave me one of those I see what you’ve done there moments. Sort of fan service or in-joke sort of things where only loyal readers will get it. I love those. One of my other favorite authors, Simon R. Green, excels at those.
I can’t recommend any or all of Gail Carriger’s books and novellas enough. She does such great world building and her characters are interesting. Her damsels may find themselves in distress, but they’re really the ones who get themselves out of it. None of that waiting for my prince to come schtick you can see in a lot of books, fantasy/sci-fi or otherwise. I’ll have to go back and read The Fifth Gender to see how these two fit together. Rating: A. I finished this in a few hours, it was so good.