Off Rock, by Kieran Shea

Off Rock, by Kieran Shea

I read this novel almost entirely from a hammock in my backyard, and I’d recommend taking that approach. It’s good and pulpy, a light summer Science Fiction read. A blue collar crime caper set during the closing days of a mobile mining station on an asteroid. Seedy characters, none particularly too bright, almost all involved in some sort of side action, fumbling their way through life with the limited choices left to them. Blackmail, vices, bribes, and lost causes are all welcome here.

Shea writes in a straightforward, no-nonsense style that reads fast and easy. Think a pulpy crime mag from the 40s, but make that 2740, and transplant that magazine onto a virtual rack residing on an illicit local intranet, accessed from portable “CPUs”. There are no lessons learned, no moral philosophies tying everything together. No overall takeaway. Sometimes a gold heist is just a gold heist. I think it works very well here.

The worldbuilding is sparse, but it has a vague feel of existing just on the outside edges of Cyberpunk. There are mega-corporations that demand complete loyalty, drones that watch your every move, and offenses against mega-corporations carry the harshest punishments: medical experimentation, and if you survive, maybe life in prison afterward. It’s a rough life for an asteroid miner, but if a highly illegal once-in-ten-lifetimes capital one corporate offense comes up, you say fuck the odds, grab hold and see how far it might take you. Maybe it’ll be just the right ticket to get out of that life, but you still have to get your loot off rock to have it do you any good. That’s where things might get difficult. Who do you trust? How much should you trust them? Give ‘em just enough rope for them to hang themselves if they fuck you over? Fuck them over first just in case? All pertinent questions if you’re a low life with limited options trying to better your situation.

This is some great sci-fi escapism, read it on a lazy Sunday, or take a copy on vacation, grab a chair by the pool, or chill in a hammock with a highly alcoholic cold drink. Turn off your head and enjoy. It was just what I needed to read between some heavier non-fiction that I’ve been slowly working on over the last month or so. I plan on picking up copies of the Koko books by the same author this summer as well. I’m hoping it’s more of this, but in a more detailed cyberpunk setting. I’ve heard good things.

 

 

Not the End of the World, by Christopher Brookmyre

Not the End of the World, by Christopher Brookmyre

A fundamentalist Christian TV mogul, an ex-pornstar, an awkwardly oversized Scottish photographer, a cop who doesn’t want the job, and a failed abortion clinic bomber walk into a foreign distribution event for American B-movies in Los Angeles at the tail end of the twentieth century. That setup alone sold me on this one, and it all plays out to hilarious effect. The fact that it’s written by the brilliant Scottish crime fiction/satirist Christopher Brookmyre, pushed it to the top of my to-be-read pile. Seriously, this writer is completely unknown in the US, and that needs to change.

Christopher BrookmyreI’m impressed with the depth of character development present here, especially in the antagonist(s). Most crime fiction I’ve read had fairly cookie cutter characters, or comically one dimensional bad guys. But Brookmyre took some of the people I despise the most, and made me empathize with them to some extent. That’s good writing. It’s still abundantly clear where they’ve gone wrong, but you can see why they made/make the decisions that they do, however misguided. In our protagonists, particularly in the retiring pornstar, he’s done a wonderful job of demystifying a profession that is generally demonized. And the writing during the sections dealing with her past, internal conflicts, and struggles are some of the best in the novel.

I tend to read a couple books at a time, usually one novel, and one non-fiction book on some subject that I’m interested in. I unintentionally started reading this one around the same time as We Did Porn, by Zak Smith, not knowing that the two books would inform each other splendidly while reading them together. Both dealt with the pornography industry, Los Angeles culture, fundamentalist Christians, and the republican party at length. I’ve heard others say that this book came off as too preachy for their tastes, and I can understand that sentiment, as the story was probably a bit too heavy on the wish-fulfillment for a general audience, but it satisfied my inner liberal, socialist, atheist, feminist, godless heathen heart to no end.