I really enjoyed my recent reread of space opera thriller The Vela, so I’ve been excited to pick up season two to find out what happens to its conflicted characters in the wake of the battle of Gan-De. The Vela: Salvation sees a new writing team take up the reins as humanity struggles to save itself from disasters of its own making.
Salvation picks up 6 months later, with Niko and Asala divided by the closed wormhole. Niko is still reeling from the death of their father and from being abandoned by their best friend; Asala has turned her back on the past, focused on winning her way back into her sister’s affections. As General Cynwrig tightens her grip on the old system, Niko finds an unexpected ally who can help them bridge the emptiness of space and make contact with the Vela. But the refugees have their own problems – factions have emerged and the planet itself is beginning to react to their presence in unexpected ways… Can there be any salvation for the remnants of humanity?
Unfortunately, Salvation fell very, very flat for me. The careful world-building and nuanced characters of the first season are gone, as is the pacy action/conspiracy thriller narrative. The Vela worked well in part because it threw so much at you so fast, bolstered by moments of reflection that fleshed out the characters. Salvation plods, slow and repetitive, wasting much of my goodwill with wooden dialog and unbearable recaps. Even if I’d read this in weekly instalment, these are awfully heavy-handed, showing none of the faith in the audience common to other Serial Box titles.
Asala in particular gets thrown under a bus (if not as badly as my darling Soraya). I’ll buy that the sniper isn’t great at talking about her feelings, but Salvation would have us believe that she can’t understand why Dayo wants her family back when Asala’s entire motivation is to – let me check my notes – get her family back. Consequently, her interior monologue is often as naive as it is self-absorbed, at odds with the woman we met in season one – not a brilliant mind, but certainly not one given to this level of self-deception.
Each episode seemed to add more grit rather than smoothing things out. An opportunity to explore the ways in which Gan-De absorbs refugees via military service is largely wasted. The writing team seem to have forgotten how big space is (a journey from Gan-De to Khayyam is completed in mere hours). Where The Vela took time to show how human Cynwrig was – however cruel – Salvation settles for pantomime villains, all venomous arrogance and casual murder to show how dastardly they are. Don’t get me started on the psychic fungus (I’ve played far too much Alpha Centauri to take it seriously), which confirmed the Asala/Dayo conflict as little more than a plot device to be hand-waved away when no longer needed.
On the plus side, I was intrigued by Niko’s response to their situation (who knew the cinnamon roll could be so bitter) and enjoyed their romance arc (still some sugar in that cinnamon roll after all). Asala’s expedition across Salvation was haunting, with moments of creeping horror as her team fell victim to the fungus. Narrator Robin Miles was – as ever – a joy to listen to.
However, these plus points were too few when balanced against the rest of the mess. Salvation has some solid concepts, but sadly I’m left with no appetite to engage with any future seasons (should they emerge).
The Vela: Salvation is a collaborative work by Ashley Poston, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Maura Milan & Sangu Mandanna; narrated by Robin Miles. It is available as serialised fiction or audio from Serial Box (seasons for sale individually, or included in the new Serial Box membership).