Book Review: Red Noise, by John P. Murphy

Today’s book review is of John P. Murphy’s action packed new novel Red Noise, published by Angry Robot and out in eBook today. This fair and unbiased review was conducted with gratitude for the free electronic copy of the book which I received. Read on, and beware of sharp edges…

This review contains an affiliate link to Bookshop.org, which will earn me a commission if used, and will help to support independent bookshops.

Pondering the big mysteries of life and asking philosophical questions are things that science fiction does very well. But sometimes, you just want a big old scrap. In space, if at all possible. And wouldn’t you know it, John P. Murphy has given us just that. Red Noise is the story of a lone badass interposing herself between two warring gangs and looking to make a tidy profit off each of them as they escalate the conflict, with bloody skirmishes leading to even bloodier showdowns.

If this sounds familiar, it’s no surprise – Walter Hill’s prohibition-era Western Last Man Standing and Leone’s Spaghetti Western classic A Fistful of Dollars sprang to mind as I was reading, and doubtless others will be able to bring to mind more examples of this setup than I can. But there’s a reason why the same stories come around again and again – it’s because, done right, they’re a hell of a lot of fun.

And damn, Red Noise is fun.

Putting his own twist on those Western tropes, Murphy transfers the action from the usual dusty boardwalks and corrals to Station 35, a former military installation built into an asteroid. Our drifter hero is, quite literally, drifting, as she’s an ore miner looking to offload her cargo and resupply. With no other stations within her fuel range, she’s forced to dock at Station 35, a location soon to be made infamous by her actions. Witnessing the situation that the inhabitants are enduring – one of warring gangs and corrupt law enforcement, as well as having been thoroughly ripped off herself, “The Miner” downs tools and straps on her sword to right some wrongs, and maybe get a decent payday while she’s at it. Yeah, that’s right, she’s the woman with no name too. Perfect.

What unfolds is some highly entertaining, rapid-fire fun, with a cast of colourful thugs and crime bosses, sympathetic characters stuck in the middle of it all and more foul language than I could have wished for in my most puerile dreams. Seriously, there are some very colourful insults in there, it’s really a lot of fun. With the dapper Feeney in his rundown hotel and his traitorous former enforcer Angelica Del Rio in her captured casino, a lot more than insults end up flying across the galleria that separates them though. The action is stylish and cinematic, particularly as station rules prohibit firearms, allowing The Miner to show off her augmented close combat abilities as she slices and dices her way through more than her fair share of goons. There are plenty of nice touches to her meathead opponents too, whether it be a description of their interesting cosmetic gene modifications, their piercings, or their armament. All of this helps flesh out the world and give us more little details about it, and it’s done very subtly.

Things don’t proceed in quite the straightforward way you might expect them to either, with plenty of twists and turns through the winding corridors of Station 35, as deals are made and broken and other players enter the game with their own agendas. Uneasy alliances made before The Miner’s arrival are tested, and she’ll need her wits to be as sharp as her sword if she’s to survive the machinations of either side unscathed. There’s a lot of attention given to the consequences of The Miner’s actions, as the rival gangs attempt to work out what her angle is and whether or not they can trust her, with some really nicely developed character arcs in there too. As likeable as The Miner is, she is very much a character who has done a whole lot of living already, resulting in her being the infinitely cool weary loner that she is, but one that doesn’t really have much reason to change in terms of her character. Bringing in these other characters and developing their arcs makes this a much more satisfying story than it otherwise might have been – not that it isn’t fun to see a lethal veteran take on some cannon fodder, but it could have been a bit one-note. Happily, that isn’t the case at all.

Cartoonish, stylish and slick, Red Noise is just as much fun as I hoped it would be, with a satisfying conclusion and plenty of sardonic, detached cool to boot. If this was Murphy’s A Fistful of Credits, here’s hoping we get For a Few Credits More.

Red Noise is out in eBook today published by Angry Robot – you can pick it up DRM-free from their webstore, with the paperback available through this affiliate link.

Currently reading: Mordew, Alex Pheby
Currently listening: In Times, Enslaved
Advertisement

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Red Noise, by John P. Murphy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s