(2015) Mike Brooks, Del Rey, £8.99, pbk, 423pp, ISBN 978-0-091-95664-6
Dark Run is a part comedy, part western, all science fiction novel by Mike Brooks. It throws reason into the wind (or vacuum of space) and evokes distant memories of Joss Whedon’s Firefly. It is a Gatling gun of quips and jokes that had me chuckle to myself every time I turned the page and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed watching all of the various characters try to one up each other.
Brooks seems to effortlessly create a world dripping with classic science fiction detail in only a few lines. This is epitomised in the protagonist, Drift's, description of Glass City or and other locations.
There are no aliens in this book: everything is kept human or cyborg. This presents a more “expand across the universe” tale than anything else. The writer never takes the story too seriously either. Humour kept me engaged from beginning to end, it made light of various situations yet somehow managed to build with tension and suspense as we reach the final few chapters.
The story of Dark Run develops in two parts. The first part introduces us to an intrepid gang of smugglers. We have Ichabod Drift, the alcoholic captain with the silver tongue. Then there’s Tamara Rourke, the silent but deadly efficient sniper. Jai and Kaui, the twins, who constantly argue and the youngest and newest crew member Jenna who can 'splice' through any computer software, security, and is a-get-out-of-jail-free card in some cases which is not a bad thing. It is clever. It is not overplayed and can help to build or alleviate some of the tensions in the book. Then we have Apirana, arguably the best character and general muscle of the Keiko. Finally, there's Micah who is the guy that follows the money.
Brooks introduces all of these characters in the first ten pages of the novel, which leads to some confusion about who they are and does not allow much room for depth. Jai and Kaui offer very little to the story and are forgettable, Micah just the same. Rouke is bland despite her portrayal as an assassin. Jenna, on the other hand is a likable, well-developed and our viewpoint for most of the story.
The premise of the book is that nobody talks about their past, suggesting that these pasts might be revealed. Unfortunately, Brooks had other ideas as only two out of seven characters get much development or backstory in the ensuing four-hundred-pages.
Despite this, the plot of Dark Run is pretty good and absorbing from end to end. A race against time is quickly set up as Captain Ichabod Drift of the Keiko caught up in blackmail and a race against time slowly losing the trust of his crew in an effort to keep his past hidden and make the delivery to get Nicholas Kelsier, his old boss, off his back.
Except not everything goes to plan.
The plot of Dark Run is great and refreshing but seems to stumble in the second part. Brooks has written a sequel titled Dark Skies and I wonder if that second story was written as a build up for that. Brooks seems to have a pattern in the first half of the story: introduce the problem; discuss the plan; action; and finally problem resolution. But the second half feels as though it was written by another author, or at least written with other priorities in mind. The viewpoint shifts, retelling the same action from different perspective. This feels out of place at first and I had to re-read a couple of chapters before l understood what was going on. It felt as if Brooks had a great idea, but as he was writing that idea out on the page, it did not develop as he would have liked, and therefore felt compelled to add on this second story to lengthen the book. But this does not seem to help.
Nonetheless, Dark Run is a good, middle of the road, science fiction western that will raise smiles.
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