The Spare Man

The Spare Man

by Mary Robinette Kowal
Setting: Space
Genres: Fiction / Science Fiction / General
Published on October 11, 2022
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover Source: Library

Hugo, Locus, and Nebula-Award winner Mary Robinette Kowal blends her no-nonsense approach to life in space with her talent for creating glittering high-society in this stylish SF mystery, The Spare Man.

Tesla Crane, a brilliant inventor and an heiress, is on her honeymoon on an interplanetary space liner, cruising between the Moon and Mars. She’s traveling incognito and is reveling in her anonymity. Then someone is murdered and the festering chowderheads who run security have the audacity to arrest her spouse. Armed with banter, martinis and her small service dog, Tesla is determined to solve the crime so that the newlyweds can get back to canoodling—and keep the real killer from striking again.

I love Mary Robinette Kowal’s science fiction books. This is a very different type of story. It is a mystery that gave me a bit of a 1920/1930s vibe (banter and cocktails) while being set on a cruise ship moving between the Moon and Mars.

Tesla Crane is a famous inventor and celebrity. She is traveling on her honeymoon and has paid a lot of money to be incognito. All her careful plans fall apart when a few days into her cruise, a woman is murdered and Tesla’s husband is arrested.

It is established early on in the story that Tesla was in some sort of bad accident several years ago. She has chronic pain from that. She has implanted pain control devices. She still has issues with too much activity. Sometimes she walks with a cane. She also has PTSD and works with a service dog named Gimlet. Her health problems play a large part in the story.

I love Tesla’s lawyer. She keeps video calling her whenever there is an issue with security on the cruise. Because of the distance there is a lag in communication. It starts out at 3 minutes and gets longer as the ships moves towards Mars. Because of this each party just talks and the other responds as they get the message. The lawyer is a woman who knits to work out her anger. She has a lot of anger. Don’t let her run out of yarn. Her side of these calls is just long monologues of insults and creative threats that I loved. She was my favorite part of the book.

The science aspects of the story are taken very seriously. A lot of thought went into how an interplanetary cruise ship would work. Different levels have different gravities for people from the Moon, Mars, or Earth.

One thing really bothered me though. Tesla has a service dog. She loves her dog. At one point the dog is abducted. (The dog is fine. That is not a spoiler. It is absolutely necessary to know in any book that the animal will be fine.) But, Tesla is able to think about other things while her dog is missing. I don’t care how many humans are being murdered on a ship. If one of my pets was missing, I would be tearing that ship apart piece by piece until I found them. Then we can work on solving murders. That part didn’t seem realistic. At one point she makes a choice to follow her husband for potential backup instead of following the sound of barking to see if she could find the dog. I would have been the next person murdered once my husband found out that I had followed him instead of finding our dog.

Tesla and her husband are very into cocktails. Each chapter starts with a cocktail recipe. I don’t know anything about drinks so I don’t know if they are good or not but there are some nonalcoholic ones to try if you aren’t into the hard stuff.

There are a lot of ideas in this book that don’t come together into a cohesive whole. I didn’t find the mystery all that engaging but liked some of the characters. I liked the exploration of disability in the future. There was a good acknowledgement of class privilege when Tesla had to decide whether to give up her anonymity in order to be able to go full “Don’t you know who I am?” on people who were trying to bully her and railroad her husband. Overall it was good but not as great as some of this author’s other books.