Rating: 3 out of 5
Jennifer Foehner Wells’ Remanence (Confluence) (Volume 2) picks up pretty much where Fluency left off. (Also available in a collection of the first 3 books in the series plus 3 short stories: Confluence Codex 1: An Omnibus of the Scifi Series, Books 1-3.) Jane Holloway and a few of her fellow humans/Terrans (Alan Bergen, Ajaya Varma, and Ron Gibbs) are voyaging to seek out the alien sectilians who built the ship they found. Ei’Brai, the squid-like creature that resides in a water tank at the center of the ship, is getting better and better at communicating mind-to-mind (using “anapraxis”) with the human crew. When they reach the sectilian homeworlds, however, they discover that other aliens knocked the sectilians back to a mostly pre-industrial era to make sure the deadly “plague” (really mis-programmed nanites called squillae) was destroyed. Jane expects to have to give the ship back, but frankly no one really seems to give a damn about the humans or the ship. It’s all very puzzling. Jane comes up with a new mission: retrieving those ships that are floating adrift since their crews died. The kuboderans navigating those ships are still alive, but unable to move the ships without their crew.
First, the thing that brought this down to a 3 out of 5 instead of 4 out of 5: on the alien world, the female aliens make a game out of grabbing the junk of the two male humans, repeatedly. This is played for laughs. I’m sorry, but sexual assault and sexual harassment are not funny. Changing around the expected genders does not make it funny. They hand-wave it as “cultural differences,” when Jane should have explained to the aliens that this is a serious violation in human culture and not to be done.
I also don’t understand what Jane sees in Alan after reading this. He sulks, he’s sullen, he’s rude, he has a barely-controlled temper, and he jumps to the most ridiculous conclusions. It often seems like his only positive traits are that he works hard and he cares about Jane. Ei’Brai is capable of mind-speaking with the crew, and when he happens to contact Jane at a particularly, ahem, inappropriate moment, Alan immediately jumps to the conclusion that this means Jane has somehow “chosen” Ei’Brai instead of him? Which… what?! It’s like flipping out on your partner because their phone rang during sex and you saw the call was coming from someone you don’t like.
There’s a bit too much summing up of communications when a bit of extra dialogue would be more interesting.
One thing I rather like about the aliens is that they’re not at all what the humans might have expected. They’re… selfish. Narcissistic. Lacking in empathy. The adults are incurious. Jane contemplates the idea that the anapraxis that allows mind-connection between them (in the presence of a kuboderan) is what normally gives them a greater social consciousness and empathy for others, which is pretty fascinating. Now that they’re cut off from the kuboderans, they don’t have that helping them. Only four aliens end up wanting to join Jane’s mission: two different compound leaders (Jaross and Pledor), a “mind master” named Ryliuk, and a young person named Timor. Pledor rubs everyone the wrong way, but they have to include him in order to make everything work out.
There is a time when the ship runs into a “bad” kuboderan, but I missed it if there was any explanation for how it managed to end up in control of its ship when the kuboderans are conditioned to within an inch of their lives, their squillae are used to keep them pacified, and the sectilian ships include a “yoke” to keep them from taking over.
Note: If you buy the omnibus version, it includes a fascinating short story called “The Grove” that introduces a plant-based sentient creature and the unusual world it comes from.
Content note for sex, also sexual assault/harassment (as discussed above).