reviewed by Barbara Saffer
Dead Space opens in the distant future, when humans have inhabited Mars, exploration of moons in the outer solar system is ongoing, and rich corporations are mining planetoids in the asteroid belt.
A rebellion by discontented residents of Mars has been subdued, and the horrific weapons used in that conflict have been outlawed.
In this atmosphere, AI specialist Hester Marley was looking forward to a bright future. She was one of two hundred people aboard the spaceship Symposium, on their way to establish the first human settlement on Saturn’s moon Titan. It was to be a research colony, for scientific exploration and discovery.
To aid in exploration, Marley and her colleagues had built an AI called Vanguard, whose complex mind and innumerable lifetimes’ worth of learned experience would be invaluable for reconnaissance and research. Vanguard had a quirky streak as well, and liked to take on the shape of a praying mantis, resulting in its nickname Bug.
Tragically, an anti-expansion terrorist group blew up Symposium en route, killing almost all the passengers and destroying Vanguard. The explosion left thirty-one survivors, including Hester, all of whom were rescued by cargo ships belonging to Parthenope Enterprises, which has mining operations in the asteroid belt.
Hester’s hideous injuries required her to be fitted with a prosthetic left arm, left leg, left ear, and left eye and the medical expenses left her hugely indebted to Parthenope, which could repossess the prosthetics for non-payment. Thus – two years after the disaster – Hester is working as a Safety Officer at Parthenope’s headquarters on the asteroid Hygeia, which oversees commercial operations in the region. Hester’s job is to make criminals and troublemakers vanish before they can affect the company’s profits, so wrongdoing is usually whitewashed and wrongdoers are generally expelled.
Hester is in constant discomfort from her prosthetics, and misses her family, friends, colleagues, and the Vanguard AI – who was almost like a child to her. Then one day, out of the blue, Marley gets a video message from another Symposium survivor, robotics expert David Prussenko, who was a close friend on Earth.
David is a sysadmin for the Overseer AI that manages Parthenope’s asteroid mine Nimue, which produces water, fuel, and rare metals. In his missive, David seems to misremember things that happened in the past, and Hester concludes that he’s sending a coded message. Before Hester can respond, David is killed, and Hester joins the team investigating his death.
The detective squad going to Nimue consists of Hester; lead investigator Mohammad Adisa, a native of Mars; non-binary security tech Avery Ryu; and Parthenope lawyer Hugo van Arendonk, who represents the company’s interests. The investigators expect to find the culprit quickly and close the case before it generates any adverse publicity.
Things don’t work out that way though. Nimue foreperson Yevgenya Sigrah is obstructive; David’s co-workers, including his fellow sysadmin Mary Ping, are evasive; operational problems on Nimue are suspicious; and it becomes clear David was investigating something.
As Hester assists with the investigation, examines David’s quarters, and delves into David’s activities on Nimue, she uncovers a monumental conspiracy. At this point the story morphs from mystery to thriller, and Hester must race against time to head off further tragedy.
Dead Space is an intriguing blend of science fiction and mystery that leaves the reader wanting more.
Thanks to NetGalley, Kali Wallace, and Berkley Publishers for a copy of the book.