Daily Archives: June 12, 2014

Review of How Dark the World Becomes by Frank Chadwick

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This is a debut novel published by Baen, so would I enjoy it?

Sasha Naradnyo is a gangster who sticks his neck out for no man. That’s how you stay alive in Crack City, a colony stuffed deep into the crust of the otherwise unlivable planet Peezgtaan. Sasha’s parents came to this rock figuring to make it big, only to find that they’d been recuited as part of an indentured labor force for alien overlords known as the Varoki. Now a pair of rich young Varoki under the care of a beautiful human nanny are fleeing Peezgtaan, and Sasha is invited to help. But he has responsibilities to his own people in Crack City… That’s as much as the rather chatty blurb I’m prepared to reveal.

how dark the world becomesThis is one of the best science fiction worlds I’ve encountered for a while. There are all sorts of enjoyable twists – for instance, the fact that humans are barred from using faster-than-light technology because the aliens who got there first have forbidden anyone else from utilising the same knowledge. In this bleak rendering of the future, Humanity is confronted by a group of aliens who regard our species with contempt and consider only using us for the dirty jobs they’d rather not do… A nifty way of depicting the damaging, malign influence of racism.

The other target that Chadwick lines up in his sights is Capitalism. The basic inequality of a system that intrinsically rewards the wealthy few over and above the poor many is highlighted in his world-building, where the well-established Varoki have no intention of sharing their riches with their alien allies. This scenario, where Humans as the latest addition are right at the bottom of the heap – more so because no other colonised planet has flora and fauna compatible with Earth-type DNA – leaves them disempowered and vulnerable.

Of course, if this were one of those science fiction novels where the world-building turns into pages of rants in semi-omniscience (we’ve all read them…), I wouldn’t be reviewing it. But don’t go away with the impression that this is book long on polemics at the expense of the story. Right from the start, Sacha’s first person narrative bounces off the page with more than a nod to Raymond Chandler’s noir crime thrillers. The voice is sharp, often amusing and always snappy. And the tale hurtles forward at an impressive pace, from one dangerous, tension-filled scene to another. In short, I found it difficult to put down and when I finally finished it, I was still wanting more.

Chadwick is definitely One To Watch and if you love your thrills and spills leavened with spacescapes and inscrutably hostile aliens, track down this offering – you won’t be disappointed.
9/10