Dark Star by Oliver Langmead, Unsung Stories, p/b, £9.99 / Kindle, £6.99, Website
Reviewed by Dave Brzeski
I really wasn’t sure what I’d taken on when I agreed to review this book. The science fiction/noir crossover aspect certainly intrigued me, but combine that with epic verse and I’m stepping way outside my comfort zone. I freely admit that I know very little about poetry of any kind. I know what I like, but words such as ‟pentameter” mean very little to me. All I could do is read the book and see how it grabbed me…
… And grab me it did. Virgil Yorke is a cop in the city of Vox, and a decorated hero at that. He’s also a helpless junkie, addicted to Prometheus, the resident wonder-drug. The language is very Chandleresque in style—the author describes the book as a cross between Raymond Chandler, China Mieville and John Milton. It’s not just a hard-boiled detective story, though. The science fiction element is fascinating and fairly original, with recognisable influences from films, such as Blade Runner. The title, Dark Star, refers to the fact that the book is set on a planet orbiting an actual dark star. It burns without any radiation visible to the human eye, as does all the combustible fuel on this world. The inhabitants live in perpetual darkness, and everything important in their society—wealth, religion, even drugs—is intrinsically connected to this scarcity of light. Oliver Langmead has put a lot of thought to the problems that a people who live in such a world would have to cope with. Imagine how much more dangerous a fire would be if you could barely see any evidence of it, other than some slight visual distortion caused by the heat.
A murder has been committed, and the victim has brightly glowing blood. You’d think this would be of immense interest to the authorities, but Yorke’s superiors want him on a much more important job. Someone has stolen one of the ‟Hearts”, the ancient devices that provide power to the city. The trouble is, the more they try to bury the case of the glowing girl, the harder it becomes for Yorke to let go. Full of intrigue, cover-ups and corruption, this is one of the best mash-ups of the science fiction and hard-boiled detective genres that I’ve read.
Unlike classic epic poetry, the language is not at all flowery. Having this story written in narrative verse actually contributes a comfortable rhythm and flow to the words, and the stripped back noir style of the narration really lends itself to the form. Once I got my head around the idea that a new line could start in the middle of a sentence, I found the book remarkably easy to read. I couldn’t help but think how wonderfully it would work as an audio book, and I hope the publishers will seriously consider releasing it in that format at some point.