Living in 2018 has me longing to live in some sort of futuristic Utopia, in a world of free thinking and no major crime. Perhaps in a Space Station high above the Earth were the greatest minds have traveled so that they can build a vessel that will send the next generations of humans to populate new planets. You know that as soon as you arrive it will be the same old problems. You can’t really have a Utopia with people in it, can you?
The Space Station, Ciudad de Cielo, has too sides to it; the one that people on Earth think and the reality. Alice Blake has been sent up from Earth to investigate corruption on the Station, but whilst she thinks she may see a few backhanders, she was not expecting the likes of Nikki Freeman. Freeman is a corrupt individual who breaks the law during one cycle, then upholds it the next. Scratch the surface of this city in the sky and you reveal a rotten core. A city that claims that they have never had a murder, but why are there so many bits of person floating around in Zero G?
Using a crime story to give your science fiction world some sort of structure is no new thing. Science fiction writers seem to believe that writing crime is easy; that may be true, but writing good crime fiction is not. Someone who should be able to do both is Chris Brookmyre, best known as a crime writer, but has dabbled in other genres. ‘‘Place in the Darkness’’ is his most obvious science fiction book to date as it is filled with high concepts such as Space Stations, mind meshes, AI and androids, but it is also an odd couple crime thriller about a by-the-book rookie and a corrupt veteran.
‘‘Place’’ takes a little while to warm up as Brookmyre decides to preload the story with all the sci fi ideas. The first 85 pages are mostly exposition that will hold you in good stead for later. After this the narrative switches to a crime thriller and it bombs along nicely. The fact that Brookmyre felt the need to spend so much time explaining the Space Station and the science that goes on there was not great, the best sci fi integrates this stuff into the story itself. Indeed, after page 85 Brookmyre does this himself, gifting the reader glimpses into the underbelly of life on the station, without having to dwell.
What makes the book fun is the action. There is a lot going on in ‘‘Place’’ once it gets going. Alice soon realises that the picture postcard portrayal of the city is a lie. Not only do we see it is a lie, but it is pretty debauched. Brookmyre paints a very good unsavoury picture of the city as poor people are forced to work more than one job to be able to afford to leave one day. There are several good ideas about the society, such as the closed nature of it as the companies pay the workers and then force them to spend all their money on company goods.
It is a little hard to understand what ‘‘Place’’ is; cyberpunk, crime, space thriller. It is all of these at once. The grungy world that Brookmyre creates feels like something of tomorrow, but you can also see the cities of today in it. If the first act of the book had been integrated better into the narrative, this would have been a must read science fiction book for those who like their tales a little pulpy. As it stands, some people may not get past the intense start.