Is Salvage a novel or a collection of short stories?

It can only be one or the other, surely – or, like Schrödinger’s Cat, can it exist in both states at once? Well, I like to think it can. Or, put another way, I’d like to have my cake and eat it. Salvage is a novel, and it’s also a collection.

I wrote the first section of Salvage – oh, okay then, the first short story – way back in around ’07. It was called “Salvage Rites” and concerned a salvage ship captain, his AI co-pilot, and engineer, and their search for a vast monastery starship. It’s a fast, slick action-adventure about thwarted love, lust, and the religious impulse. It sat in my PC for a year while I dickered with it, and then sent it to Pete Crowther who was editing an anthology for DAW books about robots and AIs, We Think, Therefore We Are.

As is the way of things when I write a new tale in a new setting, I invariably get ideas for further stories in the same setting, using the same characters. This is more than just a mercenary impulse. Of course one hopes that one day the stories might be collected. But the lot of the SF writer is to invent a new setting with every new tale – and it becomes a trifle tiring; far better to re-use one’s hard-thought futures, surely?

Over the course of the next few years, from ’07 to ’11, I wrote two or three Salvageman Ed stories a year, in between novels. Some were light-hearted space opera adventures, others were planetary romances, and two or three explored the differences between artificial intelligence and human intelligence. Two stories, “Cold Testing” and “Laying the Ghost” sold to Asimov’s and Clarkesworld respectively, while others appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, The Hub, and two NewCon Press anthologies edited by Ian Whates. The French magazine Bifrost translated a couple of the stories and expressed an interest in doing more.

After writing about four Salvageman Ed tales, it came to me (I’m slow) that the stories were following an arc known only, until then, to my subconscious. Ella, the AI, was being chased by spider-drones working for the company that owned her, and hapless Ed – who was besotted by Ella – was doing his utmost to keep them from catching her. So I had an overarching conflict set up for the series, which I returned to roughly every other story – taking time out to write about Ed’s engineer, Karrie, and to examine the loss of Ed’s sister when he was a kid and the effect this had on him. After a few years I had twelve tales about Ed, and they formed a cohesive whole, with a beginning, middle, and end, with conflict, a primary plot and sub-plot, and a neat dénouement.

All I had to do then was to assemble the tales, read them through in a sitting and cut out all the repetitions – which were many – and rewrite a couple of tales to maintain internal consistency. One story I ditched – it didn’t work – and the finished ms stood at twelve stories… sorry, chapters… and around 65,000 words.

Then came the problem of selling the book.

The received wisdom of the big publishers is that story collections don’t sell in sufficient numbers for them to be worthwhile investing in. A couple of the bigger houses turned Salvage down, and I was considering the small press market when Keith Brooke expressed an interest. His line of e-books was doing well, and he was thinking of branching out into paperback originals to accompany the e-books publications. As it happens, I put out a few e-books from his imprint, and then two paperback collections (Ghostwriting and The Angels of Life and Death), before Salvage was ready to see print.

And here it is, assembled for the first time between covers, graced by a wonderful illustration depicting a vast piece of scrap salvage in a planetary setting – the story of lovelorn Ed, the beautiful and brilliant AI Ella, and Ed’s despairing and frustrated engineer Karrie.

You can read it as a novel, or you can read it as a collection of stories – whichever form you prefer.

This piece first appeared on the Upcoming4me website.

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