The Dark Side by Anthony O'Neill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a free copy of this from NetGalley.
Only human beings would look at a lifeless hunk of rock in a vacuum and think, “This place is too dull. We should spice it up by making it a haven for the worst of humanity, and then it could also be a cesspool for crime and corruption.”
Purgatory is a colony on the far side of the moon founded and controlled by a wealthy tycoon named Fletcher Brass who left Earth because he was about to be prosecuted for various crimes, and that makes it perfect for any anyone else trying to avoid a prison sentence. It’s also a tourist destination where money can buy drugs, surgery, sex, privacy, or pretty much any depraved thing a person might be looking for. What happens in Purgatory stays in Purgatory.
Damien Justus was an honest cop on Earth which earned him a face full of acid as a reward as well as a target on his family so he’s come to Purgatory to hopefully avoid further repercussions. The assassination of one of Brass’ top officials is his first case, and he quickly learns that he can’t count on the corrupt police force. He also realizes that he’s probably being used as a pawn in a battle for power between Brass and his upstart daughter.
In a parallel story we follow the adventures of an android as he journeys across the moon towards Purgatory. He’s been downloaded with the Brass Code, a set of pithy declarations created by Brass that are essentially boasts about how willing he is to be a selfish asshole to gain and keep power that would make Donald Trump seem low-key and rational by comparison. Unfortunately, the android’s literal interpretations of the code mean that he gruesomely murders almost everyone he meets.
This is an interesting hybrid of several genres. There’s obviously the sci-fi elements, and O’Neill delivers there with a great setting and a well thought out society. He does enough world building to make the idea of a seedy crime-ridden moon colony seem real, and the depictions of things happening outside on the moon’s surface are equally compelling. There’s enough hard science here to ground it and make it feel authentic, but it never does info-dumps to the point of boredom.
It’s also a noirsh mystery, and the story of one good cop facing a rich bastard who controls everything is a familiar concept that feels fresh in this setting. My favorite parts involve the killer android because once you realize how this thing is going about its business those sections read like a horror movie as it relentlessly pursues its goal, and it’s twisted personality becomes genuinely creepy so that every interaction he has with anyone will keep you on the edge of your seat as you wait for him to start his usual crazy murder spree.
The writing style and pacing keep the whole story cooking along, and even minor supporting characters are fleshed out very well with quick backstories. There’s also an underlying dark humor to the whole thing that I appreciated. Overall, it’s an entertaining and well written story that should appeal to fans of sci-fi, hard boiled mysteries, and killer robots.
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