REVIEW: Unexploded Remnants by Elaine Gallagher

Unexploded Remnants is the debut novella by Scottish author Elaine Gallagher and tells the story of Alice, who is the last surviving human and spends her time seeking out unusual artefacts for preservation and/or safety. One such rummage throws up an artefact that looks like a lava lamp—the book is full of 20/21st century references—but is in fact an AI soldier from a long-ago war. This of course leads to a breathless chase across the galaxy to find the entity (taking the name of “Gunn”) a safe and ethical outcome while dubious forces seek to obtain it and dispose of Alice as collateral.

Unexploded RemnantsImagine a queer Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider story that sprawls through a diverse universe reminiscent of both Star Wars and the Culture, with added Stargate and Doctor Who elements. Unexploded Remnants is a wild ride that starts off a top speed and rarely lets up.

That worldbuilding is a key part of Unexploded Remnants as Gallagher offers a glimpse into a galaxy where anything seems possible and proceeds at a brisk pace from the kind of market you’d expect on Tatooine through salvage yards, overwhelming cyberpunk vistas and a more sedate city just in the opening sequence. There are hints of a vibrant, exciting universe begging to be explored in more detail and I really want to see it.

Alice’s backstory is similarly fascinating, but not overly dwelt upon. She’s a trans woman who fell upon the portal network one day and ended up as a freelancer for ‘the Archive’ and was thus saved from Earth’s resulting climate collapse, becoming the last human. Those themes of queer representation, being the last of your kind and trying to make your way when out of time and place are integral to the story, especially those points of empathy between Alice and Gunn.

One line that stuck out to me was during Alice and Gunn’s initial conversation where Gunn replies “You count me as ‘people,’ then?” That’s the key element of the story and couldn’t be a more apt theme for these times.

While somewhat outside the usual grimdark vein, I feel that Unexploded Remnants will be a good book for fans of the gritty and morally grey to pick up. Alice’s job as a freelancer picking up antiquities is inherently grey and this universe is far from noblebright or possessing a black and white morality between factions. Furthermore, the key plot points of who counts as people, free will and making hard decisions are at the heart of the grimdark, even if the story isn’t rubbing our nose in mud, blood and swearing.

All in all, this novella is great fun, both thought provoking, action packed and rattles along at a brisk pace with evocative writing that offers plenty of description but doesn’t linger overly on exposition. If I had a criticism it’s that Unexploded Remnants left me wanting more. Like so much in recent years from Murderbot to This is How You Lose the Time War, the novella format is great at giving a digestible amount of science fiction for busy modern lives, but so often leave you wishing for more and Unexploded Remnants is no different. More please.

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Chris Napier

Chris Napier

Chris Napier lives in Glasgow, Scotland with his wife, two young sons and a head full of utter nonsense. An ecumenical geek, he especially delights in stories of hope in dark places and finding beauty in desolation. In between writing his own stories and posting to his Chaotic Good Story Club, he attends the Glasgow SF Writers Circle and contributes to Big Comic Page and Grimdark Magazine.

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