Review #19: Torquing Vacuum by Jay Lake

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Apr 17, 2010 in Reviews |

Author Website:
Published by: Clarkesworld Magazine, February 2010

cocktailPhoto by Rick Creative Commons

The Story:

Engineering Supervisor Domitian Spanich is always falling for the wrong type of guy — the young, pretty kind who don’t stick around once they’ve spent his pay chitty on fancy drinks. Half the guys torquing vacuum on Estacada Orbital swing his way, and yet Spanich finds himself hopelessly captivated by Austen, Spanich’s dull-witted sometimes lover, whose finer attributes include a tight body, crooked smile, and violet eyes. But then Austen shows unexpected interest in Mare Imbrium {13 pairs}, the starship Spanich had been working on for three straight shifts, and Spanich’s world changes overnight.

The Craft: World Building


Torquing Vacuum has a lot going on world building wise, and yet it’s all integrated into the story in a way that doesn’t leave the reader’s head spinning. (Though I do admit, I had to print this one out so I could better digest it.) Immediately the world feels foreign, right from the mention of Spanich’s name (pronounced Span-ick, or Spinach if you really want to piss him off.) We quickly learn that Spanich is a drive tech on Estacada Orbital. He’s working on a ship, the Mare Imbrium {13 pairs}, which has a shipmind — a bit of world building that really stands out in this piece. Here, the shipminds aren’t subservient as they are in so many science fiction stories, but revered and their ship’s names demand respect, like the credentials of a honored official.

The ambiance of Estacada Orbital is set with a mix of tech and culture, introduced with conflicts related to the story. We learn of the monetary system through Austen’s frivolous spending of Spanich’s pay chitty, local thalers, and Imperial schillings, the latter of which also hints at the greater political structure of this universe. The cybernetic waiter at the bar seems like it’s just as likely to kill Spanich as it is to serve him a drink, which suggests that Estacada Orbital is the kind of place where you watch your back. The colloquialisms also add a touch of charm, like: “Thank the pressure demons this place was so dark.” and I particularly enjoyed the line about how “Austen could scent ‘broke’ the way a sniffer could find a carbon dioxide breach in a scrubber tank.”

We’re also given a broader view of the universe with mentions of the Mistake, an event that is never explained, but its effects weigh heavily on the story in the form of genetically altered humans. The glimpse of the Imperial family is a small one, but is also very telling. Watching Spanich’s reaction as he realizes who Austen really is gives us insight into the hierarchy and ruling class, though their interaction is of a personal nature rather than political. Overall, this story gives the reader a lot to chew on, but it’s presented in manageable chunks. The details of the world are specific and fun and are worked into the story in a natural, tidy, entertaining way.

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Jay Lake
Apr 17, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Thanks for a terrific review. FYI, I am writing a trilogy of novels in this setting, called Sunspin. I plan for both Spanich and Austen to appear in the books.

Nicky Drayden
Apr 17, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Cool! I really enjoyed this world, and definitely look forward to seeing more of it.



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