Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review of Dark Star by Oliver Langmead



There are many modes and styles of storytelling.  Classic, minimalist, expository, stream of consciousness, mosaic, meta-fiction—and on and on go the ways in which an author can transpose their imaginings into fiction.  But poetry?  Have you ever read science fiction in metered form?

      Time to waste, so I escape the city
  At one of those seedy establishments
  They call ‘Glow Shows’ because they fill the girls
  So full of Pro’ it nearly burns their veins.
      Prometheus, resident wonder-drug;
  Pro’, Promo’, ’Theus, liquid-fucking-light;
  Prohibited by city law and shot
  By yours truly, Virgil Yorke, hero cop (1)

So run the first lines of Oliver Langmead’s Dark Star (2015, Unsung Stories).  And what follows is a story that lives up to every ounce of vividness contained in those few words—a proper story, just in measured form.

The effect replete, when Detective Yorke is called to the late night scene of a murder, the emptiness between the lines makes what imagery that is in the lines—the corpse’s neon veins—twice as powerful.  The city of Vox perpetually dark, the young woman’s body glows in the back alley, begging Yorke—and the reader—to learn what has transpired.  But just as his investigation begins, an even bigger crime calls Yorke away.  Vox dependent on the power generated by three dying stars, one has been stolen.  So, into the cold, dark night Yorke goes, battling his own addictions every step of the way, the metered verse stripping his story down to its evocative essentials.

The beautiful cover image precisely relaying the imprint of the story, Dark Star is an intensely visual experience.  Akin to the aesthetic of the Sin City films, Yorke’s path through his own haunted life as well as the depths of Vox’s ghettos and aristocracy lifts off the page in a swirl of neon, broken streetlights, dark alleys, and cigarette smoke.  The rhythm and flow of language pitch perfect for the classic minimalism of hardboiled noir, the story virtually pops into the reader’s field of vision, after-images burning like tracers through the night.

Thus, the reader wary of reading science fiction in poetic form needn’t worry.  Dark Star, while requiring a slight shift in gears compared to standard third-person omniscient narration, is highly readable—more rhythm than rhyme.  Erasing the thought ‘Oh no, not more cyberpunk noir…”, the brisk pace, perfect balance of story elements, and simple but tight plotting make for a highly engaging, unique read through the use of language.  Anybody can partake, but it will hit the sweetest spot for the reader keen on lexical flow.

For those interested, Dark Star makes room for rumination on the classics.  Aside from the epic poetry form, the fact the main character is Virgil, his partner Dante, the setting dystopian, and the investigation curtailing the absence of light in their dark world, all pave the way to open discussion beyond the text.  Difficult to go deeper without spoiling the ending, suffice to say Langmead seems interested in critiquing, if not inverting, the Divine Comedy.  The final scene, as well as the chapter endings, pointing in a different direction than Aquinas, I’d hazard a guess that the Aenid won out.  Regardless, all is a poetic vision of hell that one must read to make up their own mind about Langmead’s angle.

Kudos go to Unsung Stories for being willing to publish this extremely unique… book. (‘Novel’ seems it should go at the end of that sentence, but just doesn’t quite do the content justice). When so much of publishing these days is interested in producing the equivalent of pop music, it’s truly pleasurable to have such small publishers willing to present alternative material for the reader of speculative fiction interested in more. 

Truly fresh and original (at least I have never read such a science fiction story before), Dark Star is an engaging, visual story that forces the reader into a slightly different vein of reading experience—one they will undoubtedly emerge from with neon glowing in their eyes.  Perfectly paced and structured yet in a form virtually unknown to the genre, Dark Star is detective noir for the 21st century.

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