[Review] Damage, by David D. Levine
Try “Damage” for a really bad story that actually got recommended by someone.
Plot-wise, Scraps – a cobbled-together intelligent spaceship with feelings – is tasked to go on a top secret mission with her pilot, Commander Ziegler. Turns out that he’s an arrogant, blood-crazed bastard commanded by a genocidal maniac, and her mission is to penetrate Earth’s defenses and nuke Delhi until it glows.
Writing this review, I assumed Scraps was a girl spaceship (they were cobbled together from two ‘female’ spaceships). Her behaviour is certainly a bad gender stereotype. She’s mainly passive. The pilot does the flying. Her main role seems to be providing tactical data and doing basic tasks, which my iPhone 6 can manage just fine without consciousness/sentience. The rest of the time, her “maths co-processor” is devoted to loving her pilot (the reasons for this programming are explained), bolstering his oversized ego and hand-wringing about the horrors of war.
The pseudo-sexual elements were especially cringeworthy:
I miss the thrill of my beloved’s touch on my yoke.
I had no doubt he was the same man who had warmed my cockpit every day since the very hour I awoke
The whole thing reads like Fifty Shades of G-Force** in which Anastasia Steele is handcuffed to Christian Grey while he goes on a killing spree in central Seattle. Or maybe Fifty Shades of Grey crossed with Pacific Rim, in which a gigantic Anastasia Steele trashes Seattle while Christian Grey rides on her back, giving orders. All Scraps needed was an ‘inner goddess‘ in her bomb bay.
[**Fifty Shades is the only erotica I’ve read. Hence it gets used as a reference point].
I couldn’t suspend disbelief at the weirdness of this setup. If Scraps is an AI, why isn’t *she* flying the spaceship? She manages to deploy grapnels on her own. In fact, why use a human pilot for the battles, at all? He’d be flesh blancmange after the first manoeuvre. And why doesn’t anyone – except Specialist Toman (a traitor to the Free Belt) – seem to notice that Scraps has PTSD?
If Scraps had true agency, blowing the s**t out the good guys instead of putting her metaphorical fingers over her eyes like a good little spaceship, I think it would have improved the story. She wouldn’t be an immaculate victim-protagonist, but – instead – a troubled and complex war criminal. That raises more interesting questions, I think.
Conclusion: 2.5 stars + 0.5 stars for the space battles. The writing is alright. The plot has a beginning, middle and an end. The story elements don’t quite add up.