February 20, 2021

Kali Wallace: "Dead Space" (ARC Review)

Title: Dead Space [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Kali Wallace [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2021
Age: 16+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Tight, adventurous, diverse, surprisingly moving in places, socially relevant.
Cons: There's a bitter (if fitting) undercurrent that hardly ever lets up. Also, the ending might be a tad too open for the tastes of some.
WARNING! Some gore. Death/near death by burning mentioned.
Will appeal to: Those who like speculative fiction with a heart and a social conscience.

Blurb: Hester Marley used to have a plan for her life. But when a catastrophic attack left her injured, indebted, and stranded far from home, she was forced to take a dead-end security job with a powerful mining company in the asteroid belt. Now she spends her days investigating petty crimes to help her employer maximize its profits. She's surprised to hear from an old friend and fellow victim of the terrorist attack that ruined her life - and that surprise quickly turns to suspicion when he claims to have discovered something shocking about their shared history and the tragedy that neither of them can leave behind. Before Hester can learn more, her friend is violently murdered at a remote asteroid mine. Hester joins the investigation to find the truth, both about her friend's death and the information he believed he had uncovered. But catching a killer is only the beginning of Hester's worries, and she soon realizes that everything she learns about her friend, his fellow miners, and the outpost they call home brings her closer to revealing secrets that very powerful and very dangerous people would rather keep hidden in the depths of space. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on Edelweiss. Thanks to Berkley/Penguin Publishing Group for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.


Kali Wallace is the whole package. She knows how to write sci-fi with a considerable degree of accuracy (and has the background to do so), but she also excels at plots and characters - which is, after all, why we read books in the first place. Dead Space follows a damaged (in more than a way) character - a (queer) AI research engineer who survived a space terrorist attack at the expense of a metal-patched body, not to mention the destruction of both her career and the brilliant electronic brain she had created. Bitter and disillusioned, yet empathetic and fiercely loyal at her core, Hester embarks on a (literal) journey in order to find out who killed an old friend and to clear his name, uncovering a bunch of startling secrets in the process. It was refreshing to read about a disabled heroine (as I said, the doctors fixed her up with metal/cybernetic prostheses, but she's far from an enhanced human - her patches come with a whole set of problems), and if at various points in the book Hester is either despised or fetishised for being the "ultimate frontier" between human and machine, as far as representation goes, hers is honest and arguably accurate. I mean, I speak from an able-bodied perspective, but her pain (both physical and psychological) feels real, and her difficulties, as peculiar as they are, feel real, as do her inner strength and courage. We need more disabled characters in sci-fi, and Wallace is proof there's lot of room for them in the genre. [...]


Talking about representation, there's a lot to love in this story. Plenty of queer nuances (including a non-binary ex love interest) that are not once challenged, plenty of different ethnicities that don't seem to pose a problem, but on the other hand, a capable, determined Martian officer among them who takes the brunt of certain characters' xenophobia - all while never wavering. Wallace addresses fear of otherness/racism by having Martians act as a mirror for all the ethnic groups who have been taken advantage of and enslaved during the course of history, and then hated for trying to reclaim what was theirs in the first place. The thriller part of the narrative, though, mainly centers on greed and exploitation in the classic sense - as means to obtain money and power - and connects them with Hester's fields of expertise in a surprising twist (to the best of my knowledge, AI's depiction in books has never read so creative and poetical before). My only quibbles about the whoddunnit is that I can't help but feeling like Hester makes some leaps of logic in her investigation...but maybe she's just smarter than me 😉.


Fair warning: if you're a fan of neat endings or HEAs, this book probably won't work for you. I found the denouement satisfying overall, and one can arguably figure out what's going to happen to Hester in the long run, but it doesn't seem likely that she's going to face a smooth transition, especially in regards to her job and social status. Yet, the last pages are full of hope and even humour, and tie in beautifully (and again, creatively) with Hester's original line of work. Also, if you're a sci-fi aficionado, you're probably used to not getting everything tied up with a bow in the last pages 😉. To be honest, the whole book pulls no punches - but that's part of its charm. Absolutely recommended to (socially aware) speculative fiction fans and neophytes alike, as long as they aren't put off by the gory bits and especially if they dig quirky Artificial Intelligence.

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  1. I actually read one of Wallace's books. Look at that! Sounds like this was a solid hit for you. Seems a bit intense for me, but I love seeing people so enthusiastic about a book they read.

    1. Wow, I barely posted this, and here you're commenting already 😀.

      Ah, yes, The Memory Trees. I loved that one. I've read all her books to date, and they're all ranging from very good to awesome, but I can see how TMT would be the only one that fitted with you 🙂.

  2. Oh wow I didn’t know the author had a new book out! I enjoyed Salvation Day and this one sounds even better! I’m definitely adding it to my list, great review!!

    1. Thanks! It is, indeed, better than SD (for me at least LOL).

  3. I haven't read this author but then I do like HEA's.

    1. I tend to read books where there aren't lot of them LOL.

  4. Lovely review! I've just started reading this and I'm already loving it:-)

    1. Looking forward to your thoughts! Very few of my friends read sci-fi, so I feel a bit alone LOL.

  5. "Those who like speculative fiction with a heart and a social conscience." This sounds awesome. amazing cover. Asteroid belt. Sounds like it hiys a lot of my buttons! AI too- and a thriller in space. This sounds amazing.

    1. I hope you decide to try it! I do think it would work really well for you.


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