The Progenitors of The Wheel live high up above the sky, amongst the stars, removed from the petty concerns of mere mortals. Each one designed, engineered, perfect; their imperfect children get left to die.As I said, this was a very different book to Gail Carriger's other work. It's science fiction and not a comedy. Also, the main character is twelve or thirteen, which I think is even younger than the Finishing School characters. She does have a cute pet, though, but I think that's the only common element. Maura's life starts off as bleak as a Dickensian orphan's until a luck and a chance encounter basically save her life and allow her to get off the space station she was born on and to a better society where she has a chance to, well, not be dead within a year.
Ghosts. Cyphers. They do not exist. A lucky few, the Crudrats, scrape out a perilous living cleaning the toxic wastes from the great machines that power the station.
Meet Maura. Cypher. Crudrat. Grown too tall, alone in a spaceport with no use for her, doomed to starve. With only her crud-eating murmel and an alien monster to help her, she must find a way to survive, or escape, before they catch her and blow what’s left of her life, and her companions, into space.
I'm a big fan of Carriger's other books, but this one took me longer to get into than I expected. I think there are a few contributing factors. First up, I'm not used to listening to audiobooks with special effects and — especially — background music. In the opening scene, especially, the music was louder than I would've liked — relative to the words — and a bit much when trying to first get my bearings in a new story with setting and characters to learn. I think there were similarly directed scenes later on which didn't bother me in the same way.
Another thing that bothered me was the dialect of the crudrats speak. It just grated. I suspect the reason I enjoyed the second half of the book more was because Maura was in a different setting, trying to fit in (to a degree), and the people around her spoke in a different dialogue that didn't bother me.
What I liked was the view Carriger gave us of different societies and, particularly completely different societal systems. Showing the difference between an urchin and aristocrats (or their equivalents) is one thing, but then showing us a society where neither concepts exist is another thing entirely. Furthermore, everyone in Crudrat is a genetically engineered human (or their antecedents were genetically engineered), even the people Maura thinks are aliens. I was left wondering whether the particularly broad selection of phenotypes was a stand-in for race. Probably not. On the Wheel phenotype seemed more indicative of social class with crudrats being stained blue because of the dangerous work they do (they clean crud off shafts with blades slicing through them, a construct that initially reminded me of Galaxy Quest and the urge to make SF settings dangerous for purposes of entertainment) and the upper classes are selectively bread. But on the other hand, the society Maura encounters after leaving the Wheel has humans from different "original" habitats living together in equality (or meritocracy, at least).
I enjoyed Maura's disbelief at how the society worked. Not only did it work well for setting the scene, but the complete lack of mutual understanding was entertaining, especially when no one believed her about her previous job. (Because why would you power a space station with giant blades and use orphans to clean them?) I also really liked that some cursory attention was paid to the laws of physics, though I can see why my talk of giant blades — which are part of dark matter engines — may not lead you to think so. It's certainly not hard SF, but there were no stupid errors/misconceptions that made me want to punch things, so that's automatically a win.
Anyway, Crudrat was ultimately enjoyable and I would read a sequel (although I'm not sure that one is forthcoming). I recommend it to fans of adventure-style SF and coming of age stories. I highly recommend not going into it expecting something like Soulless, because your expectations will not be met in the slightest. If you like full-cast audiobooks/productions then definitely get a hold of the Crudrat audiobook.
4 / 5 stars
First published: March 2014, ArtisticWhispers Productions (Kickstarter edition)
Series: No... (but it is listed as The Tinkered Stars, Book 1)
Format read: Audiobook
Source: Kickstarter campaign (it should be available commercially somewhere