Book Review: Residuum by Dominic Dulley
Residuum - Dominic Dulley
After the thrilling adventure of Morhelion, the second book in Dominic Dulley's SF adventure series The Long Game extended the range of the universe and the larger game being played out, Residuum seems to return to the formula of the first book Shattermoon, more or less consolidating ground without developing any new ideas. That doesn't mean that it's at all disappointing however, as there is still plenty of adventure to be found in the world of the Ascendancy for Orry Kent and the crew of the Dainty Jane.
In Shattermoon, we were introduced to Aurelia Kent, 'Orry' and her colleagues, a team of irreverent n'er-do-well space grifters operating outside the normal rules of the Ascendancy, making enemies with the rich and influential, being chased by their enemies and the authorities, having to make rapid escapes off-planet, or break out of captive situations. Whereas that formula was repeated throughout Shattermoon - chase, capture, escape - the uneasy peace holding out between the Ascendancy and Kadiran in the second book Morhelion has altered the dynamic slightly, pointing the series in a new direction.
But much like the last book, it does no harm to set the scene and remind you of the types of characters we are dealing with, as well as providing thrilling chase and opening gambit before getting down to more serious business. On a luxury planet, enjoying the gains of their last success, they soon find the Eton Bullingdon types the Ruuz (with one called Boris) fairly objectionable and put them in their place before they have to get off the planet sharpish. It looks like Orry has been framed for a murder, but will they be able to outrun the arbiters? Will Orry get captured and have an escape plan within 5 minutes of being locked up in a high security prison with her worst enemy? I think you might know the answers to these questions if you've read Shattermoon.
Not that this in any way lessens the fun and excitement in Residuum. Dominic Dulley's intention here in the third (and final?) part of the series is to continue to serve up a thrilling science-fiction space adventure, never letting up for a moment, but racing from one exciting nail-biting event to the next. Although it is set in an alien environment you will recognise familiar types and situations, from class conflict, the espionage situations and threats to the Imperator of the Russian-like Ascendancy, to the reliable character types that you'll find not just in Star Wars, but familiar behaviours that you will recognise in political current affairs.
But obviously with a bit more flair and taste for action and adventure. Residuum's adventure takes off from a conspiracy being played out in the apparent murder of Professor Rasmussen, where someone has set Orry up to be the fall guy. This provides the motivation to set off an intrigue across several new planets that - much like those in Morhelion - each have their own distinct characteristics and problems that provide plenty of imaginative science fiction situations, including here a planet overrun with swarms of tiny bots that eat anything man-made, including people.
As far as the SF aspects go, integuaries are the main technology that permits built-in communication and control links with technology and allows Orry and her skilled crew to conveniently get out of any number of situations. It's a leftover from some technology belonging to the ancients, the Departed (very much like the Sublimed in the Iain M. Banks Culture novels), and it turns out that there is more dangerous technology where that came from. It all sounds a little bit formulaic and to some extent it is, with some of the situations including a conventionally cinematic shootout across carriages of a high-speed train and a shape shifting Terminator-like avatar.
Once it gets those things out of the way however and we discover what Residuum is, we're back on a cosmic scale of science-fiction, and in much more interesting territory. Actually, you could probably say that there is a good balance in Residuum between the popular SF of movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and the more epic space opera adventure material of the superior Banks Culture universe novel Excession. That makes the adventure highly entertaining, occasionally mind boggling, but never dull. It's also great just for the characters and how they interact, all the more for having gone through the previous adventures with them. It would be a shame if the series finished here, but it's certainly been a fun ride.