Dark Run (Keiko)
by Mike Brooks
Review by Sam Lubell
Saga Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781481459532
Date: 24 May 2016 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Dark Run is an exciting caper movie in science fiction form reminiscent of the short-lived TV series Firefly. This first-novel combines exciting action with interesting characters.
The novel opens with an elaborate sting as Ichabod Drift, Captain of the interstellar ship Keiko, flushes out the leader of the Wild Spiders gang by claiming he had already killed him. This serves to start the book with a bit of action and show how Drift survives by his wits. Drift plays both sides of the law, sometimes hunting criminals for the bounty, other times smuggling cargo.
The crew of his ship includes Tamara Rourke, a dead shot shooter who has been working with Drift for eight years; slicer (hacker) Jenna McIlroy, the youngest and newest of the crew; Apirana Wahawaha, a huge Maori tribesman who provides muscle for the crew; Micah van Schaken, a mercenary fighter; and pilot Jia Chang and her brother Kuai, the ship's mechanic. Drift and Jenna get the most characterization. The Captain has a mysterious past (a rule on the ship is to never ask questions about a person's prior history) and prefers to talk his way out of a problem rather than starting with a violent solution. Jenna, a 20 year old from a privileged background, attributes her splicing abilities to a misspent youth and clearly joined the crew without fully realizing the level of danger the crew face. There's a telling scene in which the Drift realizes he is getting old when he takes a fatherly, rather than romantic, interest in Jenna.
Drift is blackmailed by a figure from his secret past to make a dark run past Earth's security and deliver a package to an address in Amsterdam at a specific day and time. Naturally, things go wrong and the second half of the book is devoted to dodging the authorities while trying to track down their former employer. In the process the hidden secrets of most of the crew are revealed.
The book is very fast-paced and full of action with some nice bickering by the crew, especially the Chang siblings. The setting could have been better developed. I did like how Earth continues to have separate nations even though Earthlings are settling other planets. Another problem was how everyone was impossibly good at their jobs--the pilot was able to do maneuvers everyone else said was impossible; the splicer could get into any system; and Rourke is a crack shot. (This is redeemed somewhat by Jenna not being good with guns.)
While there are some similarities between Dark Run and Firefly, the book is not a copy of the show (for instance, the book lacks the show's Western motif and Drift has a darker past (but a nicer personality) than Malcom Reynolds). Still, both feature a morally ambiguous, but well-meaning, crew of a small spaceship. Fans of the show will enjoy this novel.
Dark Run is a fun read. I found myself staying up late to see what would happen next. It makes a great summer book, not deep, not complex, but simply enjoyable adventures with interesting characters. Although everything is resolved in this book--there's no cliffhanger--this is book one of a series that presumably will follow the adventures of Captain Drift and his crew. I do fear that any future books would be less interesting now that the secrets have been revealed.