The Ghost Line
Andrew Neil Gray, J.S. Herbison
Received a copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor.com.
The luxury cruise ship the Martian Queen was decommissioned years ago, set to drift back and forth between Earth and Mars on the off-chance that reclaiming it ever became profitable for the owners. For Saga and her husband Michel the cruise ship represents a massive payday. Hacking and stealing the ship could earn them enough to settle down, have children, and pay for the treatments to save Saga’s mother’s life.
But the Martian Queen is much more than their employer has told them. In the twenty years since it was abandoned, something strange and dangerous has come to reside in the decadent vessel. Saga feels herself being drawn into a spider’s web, and must navigate the traps and lures of an awakening intelligence if she wants to go home again.
The synopsis paints quite a fascinating picture doesn’t it. I remember describing it as a “what if” Titanic story intermingled with the sentient aura of the Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s The Shining. It’s nothing like that at all. From the get go, you get a sense of character focus, where it’s more about the crew than it is about the ship itself. The ship becoming a means to an end, leading to character growth.
The story follows Saga and Michel, a husband and wife hacker team. With them is Gregor, the pilot of their ship the Sigurd. The crew is hired by the mysterious Wei to recapture a luxury cruise spaceship named the Martian Queen. Once a prosperous liner travelling between Mars and Earth, the ship has been decommissioned for twenty years and floats through space between the two planets. The ship is still in tact and seems the perfect score, perhaps too perfect. But the pay will set Saga and Michel for life, and allow Saga to pay for her mother’s medical fees.
However, once inside the ship they realize they may have bitten off more than they can chew. The ships A.I. appears to be defunct, but unexplained phenomena begin to occur. Lights coming on. The casino abuzz with figures who once roamed the ship. It becomes clear to the crew, especially Saga, that not all is as it seems.
The story is told from Saga’s perspective, written in third-person. It is much more a story about Saga than it is about the Martian Queen or the crew. The writing takes a very emotive approach, where we see all the things that Saga and Michel have to deal with, Gregor’s own dismantled life, and Wei’s suspicious behaviour once they are aboard the cruise ship. These, however, appear as side notes to Saga’s own thought processes and poignant introspection.
From within the ship, the writing flows into more of a mystery. There’s hardly any technical jargon or sci-fi heavy concepts, although they are definitely present. Instead the writing focuses on how Saga feels about the job, Wei, her mother, and the curious happenings that they attribute to the ship. Of course there are some ominous moments that creep through the story but nothing really scary.
Apart from Saga,who is very well written, the other characters fall to the wayside. We get a glimpse of their personalities yet not enough to truly set them apart. They are only noticeable because there are so few characters to focus on anyway.
The writing is not flowery or filled with prose, but the nostalgia is undeniable.
The ending was not predictable at all, although in hindsight I should have seen it coming. Especially considering that the focus was barely on the ship, but the crew inside the ship. In the end I enjoyed this novella. Not in the ghost story kind of way, but the emotional investment kind of way. Much like the Stephen King books I love so much.
Rating: An unexpected 4 out of 5
The Ghost Line was published on July 10, 2017.
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This sounds really interesting! Will have to check it out.