Publisher: Podium Audio (Audiobook – 27 October 2020)
Series: Standalone/Book One
Length: 8 hours and 21 minutes
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Come for the Fillion, stay for the story! In this review, I check out the wildly entertaining audiobook version of The Salvage Crew, written by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and narrated by actor and science fiction icon Nathan Fillion.
In the far future, a small salvage crew is about to embark on the mission of a lifetime. It was supposed to be a simple job: travel to an alien planet and salvage an ancient UN starship. However, from the very start everything goes wrong. The three-man team, led by a young and still relatively human computer intelligence, is far from the most effect group, made up of outcasts with some serious personality issues. However, their incompatibility is the least of their problems, especially once they make planetfall.
The crew quickly discover that their job is going to be far harder than expected. The planet they have arrived on, Urmahon Beta, is full of all number of problems, such as harsh conditions, a lack of useful resources and unregistered megafauna that could crush them all with ease. Forced to forge through this unexplored and hostile world to their goal, it soon becomes clear that they are not alone. A rival crew of dangerous and heavily armed mercenaries made planetfall before them and has the potential to wipe out the crew with little effort. However, something is very wrong with them, and not everything is what it seems. The salvage team is about to discover that Urmahon Beta contains a massive secret that has the potential to change all of humanity, if it does not kill them all first.
The Salvage Crew is an interesting and captivating new science fiction novel from author Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, who debuted back in 2017 with the intriguing-sounding science fiction novel, Numbercaste. I have to admit that I was not familiar with Wijeratne’s writing before The Salvage Crew, and the main reason that I decided to check out this book was because the audiobook was narrated by Nathan Fillion, who I am a major fan of. However, I am extremely happy that I decided to check this novel out as it turned out to be an excellent read that featured a clever and compelling science story, with some fantastic characters and unique science fiction elements. This, combined with Fillion’s exceptional narration, produced an impressive novel which I really enjoyed listening to.
Wijeratne has come up with an outstanding story that follows a small team as they try and overcome a series of unexpected dangers and challenges upon an isolated planet. The author presents a cool and enjoyable narrative for The Salvage Crew, and I liked how it started out with the crew attempting to pull together a base on the planet and gather the resources needed to survive and then complete their task. Naturally, things quickly go downhill for the characters, as they encounter all manner of challenges and surprises that hit hard and fast throughout the book. There are a lot of cool and exciting moments throughout the plot, including a fun new version of the Charge of the Light Brigade, and the protagonists experience a lot of heavy and traumatising experiences throughout the book, some of which are quite horrific in nature. Wijeratne lays all these events out in a compelling and logical manner and the story flows along at a great pace. Some of this was apparently assisted with a random generator that helped Wijeratne to work out when certain events occurred in the book, which apparently worked out quite well, as I personally wouldn’t have changed the order of anything. The end of the novel somewhat veers away from the science fiction exploration/adventure elements that defined the start of the book, and it gets quite a bit metaphysical, which could potentially lose some readers. I myself had a good time following these intriguing plot changes, though, and I liked where the story ended up in the end. Overall, I really enjoyed the compelling story that Wijeratne featured in this book, especially as at times it could either be wildly funny, extremely exciting or somewhat disturbing. This blend of cool story elements resulted in an impressive read which is definitely worth checking out.
On top of this impressive science fiction narrative, I also have to point of the great characters that the story is set around, primarily the character of the Overseer. The Overseer, also known as Amber Rose or OC by his crew, is a former human whose brain was uploaded into a computer and who now exists as an artificial intelligence. Most of the story is told from OC’s perspective, and he is the primary first-person narrator of the book. Despite now being a machine, OC is a very human character, with a fun and extremely likeable personality that ensures that The Salvage Crew is a very entertaining read. Much of The Salvage Crew’s humour and comedy comes from OC’s narration, as he provides the reader will all manner of fun observations and witty jokes, including one particularly charming Jeeves and Wooster impersonation. OC is also an amateur poet, regaling the reader and the other characters with a series of short poems that help to capture the events or the feelings that flow through OC. These poems, which are ironically AI-generated (Wijeratne used a computer program to come up with them), add a quirky and artistic side to this character, and they end up having a surprising impact on the overall story. As well as being a humorous narrator, OC serves as the emotional heart of the book. Despite the fact that his transformation to an AI was supposed to make him more efficient and less concerned with the fates of his assets, OC is a very caring being, who is extremely protective of his human crew and is determined to bring them all back safe. Watching him attempt to stay in control and save everyone is very heart-warming and it is extremely hard not to deeply appreciate him as a character as a result. The events of The Salvage Crew also ensure that OC faces some deep and searching questions about whether he is a machine or a man, and these intriguing self-examinations ended up becoming a major part of the books plot. I really enjoyed this complex and impressive character, and I had an amazing time seeing how his story arc unfolded.
The Salvage Crew also focuses on three other substantial characters, namely the human crew that OC drops down onto Urmahon Beta with. These characters, Simon Joosten, Anna Agarwal and Milo Kalik are interesting people in their own right, each with their own unique and damaged personalities that makes them outsiders. These characters are primarily shown through the eyes of OC, which adds a bit of a slant to their characterisations, although Wijeratne does also include a couple of interludes told from these characters perspectives which expands on their personalities. These characters add a lot to the story, helping OC to achieve his goal, while also providing some compelling drama to the narrative as their issues and different personalities come to a head. All three of these characters go through a substantial amount of trauma throughout the book, and they do not deal with it well, breaking down mentally and physically, while also clashing with OC and each other. Watching these characters struggle to remain alive and sane becomes quite intense at times, and you really cannot help but feel sorry for each of them and hope that they survive the events of this book. I felt that these side characters provided an interesting counterpoint to the AI character OC, especially as they helped to highlight how much humanity OC has actually lost, despite outward appearances. The inclusion of these three compelling characters was a great touch by Wijeratne, and it helped to produce an emotionally rich overall narrative.
I also quite enjoyed the excellent science fiction elements that Wijeratne came up with for this cool book. There are a lot of amazing science fiction inclusions throughout The Salvage Crew, and Wijeratne makes sure to utilise a lot of realistic and practical technologies. You really get a sense of what a futuristic team of salvagers would experience and what tools they would bring to the table, and I had an amazing time seeing this depiction. The alien world that Wijeratne utilises as the main setting for this book is also rather cool, and it serves as an excellent challenging location for the characters. Apparently, Wijeratne used computer models/generators to come up with this planet and some elements of the book, such as what weather the characters experienced, was randomly chosen. The author also comes up with a much wider universe in which the book is set, presenting the reader with a somewhat grim future, riven with war, over-expansion and planets negatively impacted by greedy, profit-orientated corporations. This proves to be a bit of a grim view of the future, although it fit the overall tone of the novel extremely well. Wijeratne shares these additional universe elements slowly throughout the course of the book and it proves to be an interesting counterpoint to the events occurring on Urmahon Beta. The Salvage Crew also features some deep and fascinating examinations of Artificial Intelligence, as well as some other scientific elements/theories, which, without going into too many details, are quite essential for the plot of the book. I really enjoyed these cool science fiction elements, and it is clear that Wijeratne put a lot of thought into creating his universe.
As I mentioned above several times, I ended up listening to the audiobook version of The Salvage Crew, which was narrated by the amazing and incredible Nathan Fillion. Now, I never had any doubt that I was going to enjoy Fillion’s narration of this book and I was not disappointed in any way, shape or form. Fillion drags listeners in from the very beginning with a very amusing introduction about how he has sanitised his voice for the listener’s protection, and the audience is pretty much in the palm of his hands from there on out. Thanks to his excellent and compelling narration, the novel moves along on at a quick and exciting pace, allowing the listener to get through the entire story in quick succession and ensuring that there is not a significant lull in the production. Fillion’s voice is perfect for this great story, and I really liked how he dived into the main character, the former human and current AI, Amber Rose/OC. Thanks to his quirky personality and fun sense of humour, OC honestly felt like he was specifically written to be played by Fillion, who does an amazing job bringing him to life throughout the audiobook. I really loved how Fillion portrayed this great central character, and the reader becomes a lot more attached to OC because of this excellent narration. Fillion also does a good job portraying the other major characters in the novel, although he mostly uses the same voice for everyone, which occasionally made it hard to work out who was speaking. Despite that, listeners can follow the story perfectly, and it proves to be extremely hard to get lost listening to the story. The Salvage Crew has a run time of nearly eight and a half hours, and thanks to how awesome this format is, listeners can generally breeze through it in relatively short order. This is an audiobook you could easily get through in one extended session, and it would be a perfect book to listen to on a long car ride. I really loved this audiobook, and I would highly recommend this format to anyone interested in checking out The Salvage Crew. I cannot talk up Nathan Fillion’s narration enough, and to be frankly honest, it ultimately knocked my overall rating of The Salvage Crew up a few points.
The Salvage Crew by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne is an impressive and captivating science fiction novel that takes the reader on a wild ride to the darkest frontier of human exploration. Featuring an intense adventure on an alien planet that goes horribly wrong, The Salvage Crew makes excellent use of amazing characters, clever science fiction inclusions and a compelling plot to produce an awesome novel that is hard to put down, especially when narrated by the incredible Nathan Fillion. As a result, The Salvage Crew comes highly recommended, especially in its audiobook format, and I am extremely keen to see what Wijeratne writes next.