The Rush’s Edge by Ginger Smith
Angry Robot, pb, £8.15
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
ACAS, the Armed Forced of the Coalition of Allied Systems, fill their ranks by growing their own soldiers in laboratories. Known as Vats, these lab-born men and women implanted with technology before they are ‘born’ and programmed for complete loyalty to ACAS, bravery and dedication to the cause. With heightened aggression, vat-soldiers are always spoiling for a fight and burn out before they reach forty.
Halvor Cullen is an ex-vat ACAS soldier explores the Edge with two other ex ACAS soldiers, his former CO, Tyce, and medic Beryl. Along with tecker, Vivi, they manage Hal’s addiction to adrenaline and aggression-focused nature by salvaging crashed ships. When a mission brings them into conflict with ACAS, they are saved by a group of ex-vat soldiers. They offer Hal the chance to fight back against those who rejected him. Accepting their offer leads Hal to question the nature of the tech implanted in his body and the real reason vats don’t live very long.
The Rush’s Edge is set after a great war against an AI force called Mudar where the vat-born soldiers were instrumental in the humans’ victory. Hal has served his time and doing the best he can to keep his aggression under control. Hal is a likeable character. While he might go from calm to fight in the blink of an eye, he is fiercely protective of his crew.
The bond between Tyce, Beryl, and Hal is tinged with sadness. They want to keep their friend alive as long as they can, and their world is overshadowed by the knowledge that Hal has about five years of life left. Yet, despite that undertone of sadness, there is acceptance and determination to do everything they can to fill those years with experiences and friendship. This determination increases when Vivi joins the crew and romance blossoms, something Hal would never have considered for himself before.
I feel The Rush’s Edge is a scene-setting novel. Smith builds the conflict between ACAS and the planets on the Edge of ACAS space at a good pace, weaving in the history and prejudice, so we care about the characters and feel their injustices, particularly the vats. The story centres on how Hal and other vats have been mistreated by ACAS made for a purpose then rejected after eight years of service. They are looked down on by nats, people born the traditional way. The vats serve, but they are not appreciated. Towards the end of the book, we discover there may be a way to change the early death sentence of the vats and to punish ACAS. As this hasn’t happened by the last page, I believe there is more to come, which makes me happy.
Reading like Firefly, The Rush’s Edge with fast, moving along at a breathless pace, going from event to event, and it’s lots of fun. An explosive debut from Ginger Smith and I can’t wait for the next instalment.