Rating: 5 out of 5
Kali Wallace’s Salvation Day is a space horror/science fiction tale that kept me glued to my seat. Jaswinder (Jas) Bhattacharya, 22, is the sole survivor of the release of a bio-weapon on board the exploratory science vessel his parents worked on. He only survived because his mother placed him into one of her experimental spacecraft and launched him out of the ship. No one has been able to salvage the ship due to various reasons. Jas still has nightmares of that day, and now his shuttle has been hijacked by separatists who want to use him–as both a hostage and for his biometrics and knowledge of the ship–so that they can steal the large ship for their cult of 300 people. The cult of personality is led by Adam, who is mercurial and temperamental, yet also charismatic. Zahra is in charge of the kidnapping and hijacking, and she has her own ties to the abandoned vessel–everyone believes her father was responsible for the viral outbreak that killed everyone on the ship. She and her compatriots are prepared to use force to take over the ship for their families and co-conspirators–but the ship is hiding secrets of its own.
The worldbuilding is pretty fascinating. There are no uniformly evil or good sides, and one of the underlying issues is immigration, people in refugee camps, outcasts in the desert, and the different ways in which they’re perceived from different angles. 400 years ago there was the “Collapse,” at which point colony ships were sent away from Earth with only room enough for the privileged. Earth recovered under the Councils, who vowed to create a better world, but not everyone views them with gratitude. One of the recent things that happened onboard the derelict ship is that it had recovered a probe that was sent back from one of the long-gone colony ships, and somehow what happened on the ship is tied into that.
Zahra’s group of hijackers is interesting. It includes several die-hard fans of Adam, including herself at first. There are a couple of rather dangerous ex-Councils residents. And there’s my favorite, Malachi, their hacker. I love the fact that he’s not all-powerful. He can open most of the doors on the ship–with effort–but not all of them. He isn’t invincible as a hacker. He also isn’t the stereotype of the super-confident hacker, which is nice. Jas and his best friend Baqir (with whom he is in love) are also really interesting. Baqir has his own issues with the Councils stemming from his time in a refugee camp. I also am impressed by the fact that while the first-person accounts go back and forth between coming from Zahra or Jas, it’s easy to tell the narrators apart.
The mood is very atmospheric, with the hijackers and their hostages slowly making their way through the dead ship, with only emergency lighting, deep cold, and a bunch of bloody corpses to keep them company. And hmm, why do so many of the corpses seem to have died of violence when everybody’s been saying that the culprit is a virus? There are some excellent mysteries to solve in here.
Content note: blood, death, and a whole lot of corpses. Some body horror.
There is no nobility in regretting the violence you have done when it is too late.
SPOILER WARNING: Yes, there is a sub-plot regarding Jas and Baqir’s feelings for each other. However, this is NOT a “bury your gays” trope! End spoilers