Alice thinks of the stuttering history of AI, the intoxication of the early days when a few leaps in progress made people believe this was the beginning of an exponential acceleration. In fact, the sum of what those leaps achieved was merely to educate scientists as to the true complexity of what they were trying to comprehend.
I created a NetGalley account. While searching that site for my very first ARC, I came across this description for Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre:
A propulsive science fiction tale of murder and memory, all set on a futuristic space station.
Hundreds of miles above Earth, the space station Ciudad de Cielo–The City in the Sky–is a beacon of hope for humanity’s expansion into the stars. But not everyone aboard shares such noble ideals.
Bootlegging, booze, and prostitution form a lucrative underground economy for rival gangs, which the authorities are happy to turn a blind eye to until a disassembled corpse is found dancing in the micro-gravity.
Tight! While I can be a little snobby, I like fun stuff, too. And this looked fun! I had found my first ARC.
Places in the Darkness is a “buddy cop” story in the same vein as Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours, The Heat, or The Last Boy Scout. You know, the kind of thriller in which two mismatched people work together to solve a convoluted mystery. And this buddy cop story is set on a futuristic space station.
The author could have just used that space station setting as window dressing for the thriller. Instead, he did something much more interesting: he went for a genre-mixture. Because while Places in the Darkness is a buddy-cop story, it is ALSO a hard science-fiction story along the lines of stuff written by Kim Stanley Robinson or Arthur C. Clarke.
Those two genres don’t play that nice with each other. The drama in buddy cop stories comes from the conflict between the personalities of the two buddy cops. Nobody really remembers the plots or details of the mysteries of Lethal Weapon or Rush Hour; people remember the memorable characters with strong personalities insulting, fighting, and, ultimately, supporting each other. The best buddy cop stories move quickly, get their protagonists together as soon as possible, and throw constant twists at the audience and obstacles at the heroes. The fun is watching the characters respond together.
Hard science-fiction stories, on the other hand, operate at a more leisurely pace. Unlike thrillers set in contemporary Los Angeles or New York — where the audience doesn’t need to be brought up to speed on technology levels or customs — the settings of futuristic sci-fi are wholly fictional and unfamiliar to the audience. Readers have to be brought up to speed. Sci-fi fans expect a lot of details about the engineering and design of the future technology as well as the impact that technology has on humanity.
Places in the Darkness has a tough time balancing those competing genre interests. It loads up on exposition in the beginning (via infodump after infodump) in an attempt to satisfy its hard science-fiction aspirations, but all of that exposition slows down the story and therefore hampers its Shane Black-style mismatched-protagonists thriller aspirations. The characters also split up a lot, which is directly contrary to the chief charms of these kinds of books. If the author wanted to have the characters separately explore things, he should have tried to use James Ellroy as more of an influence (LA Confidential in space!) instead of mainlining Shane Black. As for the science-fiction aspects, they felt kind of generic. They lacked mind-bending originality.
Despite those flaws, however, once the plot of the book gets going, it’s pretty engaging. The book subtly sunk its hooks into me. I began to care about the fate of Nikki Fixx (a seriously fantastic name) and the inhabitants of Ciudad de Cielo. I wanted to see how the mysteries resolved. I appreciated the book’s insights into the nature of memory and personality. In short, I started to have fun with it.
I received a free copy of this book from Orbit Books through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Rating: 3 Stars