On the surface it seems like Pandora is all about death and destruction.
One of the main characters, Riff, is serving a life sentence for murdering three men, and he freely admits not just his guilt, but lack of any kind of apology for their deaths.
The other main character, Zed, didn’t manage to actually kill his target, but if given the opportunity, he’d happily make another attempt and damn the consequences.
The captain of their prison ship considers all of them, crew and prisoners, as pawns to be used and discarded to suit his entertainment. He cares for nothing except keeping what is his.
Add on a plague of violence and insanity and you have yourself a pretty bleak setting. Characters die, both good and bad. There is mourning and revenge and the desperate need to vent rage in the most elemental ways.
But it’s really about the connections we have with others.
Riff would do anything to keep his salvage team safe. It doesn’t matter how desperate the situation is, or how long the odds are. He will willingly enter the worst situation if it means there is a hope of a chance he could help one of them.
The salvage team is like a family, and like a family, they have their squabbles. Sometimes that bond is incredibly tight, other times it’s strained and fractured, but despite the cracks, they work together to escape instead of letting mistrust completely fracture them.
Zed’s psychometric abilities give him insights into the minds and hearts of others. As much as he’d like to hold himself aloof, his connections with other people are what help to buffer him from the worst of the psychic feedback caused by his abilities.
And at its deepest level it’s about love.
Fueled by both vengeance and compassion, Riff killed out of love. And despite what he says about what he did, the act still haunts him.
Zed gave up his entire life, his freedom, to give his niece a chance to live her life without the shadow of her stepfather haunting her.
Riff had been in love before and thought he’d never find a bond like that again. Zed’s psychometric abilities make relationships difficult and caused his last one to end in disaster. But despite their emotional scars and the situation they find themselves in, they are drawn to each other and the crucible they go through batters down their initial resistance.
At the end of the day, it’s their bond, their feelings for each other that give them the strength to keep fighting.