I don’t do many book reviews because I’m such a slow reader. I do good to finish a book every month, and last month I had the pleasure of finding a space opera called Dark Run.
As I’d just finished my own space opera novel called Ragtag Gamblers (still looking for a publisher, by the way), I figured it’d be a good book to further sample the genre. The reviews I’d seen for the book looked mostly positive, almost all of them comparing the book to “Firefly.”
And having finished the book last month, I can see why so many compare it to Joss Whedon’s hit space opera killed far too soon. Still, the book has enough charm of its own and a developed galaxy that stands on its own. I wouldn’t quite call it an homage to “Firefly,” but it’s not a blatant rip off, either. It’s Dark Run.
Before I get any further, let me say I know nothing of Mike Brooks, the author. I haven’t read the other books in this series, and I don’t know if I ever will. It’s hard for me to stick with a series given how slowly I read. I’m still on book #3 of The Dark Tower. And I started that series a couple years ago. So you can see my pace.
I’ll start with what I liked about this book. It had an entertaining story and a believable universe. The technology is explained well enough I don’t have any serious problems understanding what’s going on, and each planet they visit (including Earth) is painted with Brooks’ brush I’d label “good enough.” I’m not going to say the settings in this book blew me away with imagination and color. But they certainly got the job done for a quick action-packed story.
And that’s really the book’s strength, it’s action. The pacing Brooks sets is fast. It’s beyond fast. And as I raced ahead, I never found myself bored. The crew (which I’ll talk more about later) jumps from mining planets to way stations to Earth to mined out asteroids in record time. And it made for a fast read that kept me engaged. Hats off to Brooks for moving quickly but keeping the story simple enough I didn’t get lost and have to re-read anything.
So, the setting is good enough, and the action is entertaining. Let’s get to my favorite part of any book and coincidentally what I felt was Brooks’ weakest part of the story, his characters.
Firefly’s story isn’t anything special. It’s entertaining, sure. But the special sauce was in the characters. Captain Mal was charismatic and devilish enough that you’d follow him to Hell and back. Wash made you laugh and smile no matter the circumstances. Kaylee possessed an innocent brilliance everyone could strive for. Then there’s my personal favorite, Jayne Cobb. He’s big, he’s mean, he’s simple, but he always comes through for you. I could go on and on about Preacher, Inara, and the rest of the crew because I love them. They’re all incredibly fleshed out, and they each have a unique soul that just can’t be emulated.
If Brooks’ story is going to be compared to “Firefly,” that includes all aspects. Aside from Ichabod Drift (the main character and captain), we don’t get too much character development on anyone else. Rather, each character on the ship is defined by their skill sets and what they bring to each mission. The only other character who comes close to getting character development is the Māori fighter Apirana. And that’s just because we get more of his backstory.
I really wanted to like Jenna and Rourke, but I just didn’t know enough about them. They were shaved down to “assassin character” and “techno character.” Then there’s the siblings, the pilot and the engineer. I feel like they had the least personality, second only (SPOILER ALERT) to the character who dies later in the book.
The characters get the job done, but because I don’t really feel like I know any of them aside from Drift, they could be swapped out for any other generic space pirate crew. And this is probably just my personal bias because characters are ALWAYS my favorite part of the story, but I needed more from this crew if this book is constantly going to be compared to “Firefly.”
My other disappointment comes from the ship(s). In a space opera, the ship is the home. The Serenity is a home for Mal’s crew and takes on a life of its own. The Millennium Falcon is home for Chewie and Han. The Keiko is kind of like other characters in this book. It gets the job done. They say the ship’s name enough that I remember it, but that’s about it. We actually spend more time in the Jonah, a smaller ship that gets taken onto planets, though I wouldn’t call it much more of a “home” than the Keiko.
I enjoyed Brooks sprinkling in little references to things like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and even “Firefly.” He really struck a good balance between me seeing something as the reader and smiling and shoehorning the references down my throat to let me know he’d read/seen other science fiction works.
And don’t take my criticism to mean this book sucks, because it doesn’t. The story is fun to read, and I don’t hate any of the characters. I just wished I’d gotten to know them a little more (and again, I’m biased because I enjoy character-driven stories over narrative-driven stories).
This book is worth picking up, and if you read faster than I do, the sequels probably are too. I’d wager Brooks probably fixes some of the problems I listed here with characters in his future books.
Solid read, four out of five stars.
Pick it up on Amazon here.