Red Noise

By John P Murphy

Red Noise, a novel by John P Murphy
Book details

There is a certain type of film that I love. It has a central character wronged in some way and this gives them the flimsy premise to basically kill all the bad guys. Death WishJohn WickThe Equaliser, to name but a few. Red Noise by John P Murphy is the science fiction equivalent with a dark slice of humour throughout. Who would not want to land on a remote space station full of the Universe’s worst reprobates and then take the trash out? It would help if you are a former member of Special Forces tricked out with the latest military augmentations. 

At first, she is simply a miner who lands at Station 35 for a routine drop off. On arrival, things start off badly when the corrupt Customs Agent charges her too much for landing fees and things are about to get worse. Station 35 is no longer a functioning mining station but instead its denizens are all from two criminal factions or the dodgy police force. To make enough money to get off Station 35, the miner is going to have to become the Miner and rely on skills she has left dormant for a while. These skills are to manipulate, maim and kill. 

Red Noise is a book that has a lot of killing in it and an antihero at the centre who is not always that easy to like. And I loved it. The book is not played for laughs, but those that remain on board the station is mostly made up from those not clever enough for Mad Max, you cannot help but chuckle at their stupidity. When someone as competent and experienced as the Miner enters their world, there is only going to be one winner and they are not even aware yet. 

The book is not a relentless gorefest as there are reasons behind why the Miner does what she does. Like John Wick’s dog, there are reasons for her to seek revenge. At first, she is happy to leave, but they just won’t let her. More fool them. The great thing about the character of the Miner is that she is an introvert but also a psychopath. Her past means that she has no problems exacting maximum damage to achieve her goals, even if this may leave a hole open to the vacuum of space. 

Although central to the plot and driver of most of the narrative, there are other characters we get to meet and spend some time with. The leaders of the two factions, some henchmen and a bartender who just wants to make a living once again. Murphy creates a space station that feels like it existed before the Miner arrived and will carry on after, if she is ever able to leave. There is a sense of it being lived in and worn down over time. 

The entire Universe of Red Noise feels a little battered and weary. Rather than these making things depressing, it makes it more amusing. Think Red Dwarf as the tech starts to slowly break down over time. You get the sense that over on Station 36 they will have all the mod cons, but here on Station 35 you must make do with punks smashing up the place for fun. 

The tone of the book is kept quite light just by most of the characters being stupid or half baked. At the core, the family relationships are almost Shakespearean, but we are provided melee weapons rather than iambic pentameter for our entertainment. You get to know and even like some of these characters, but many go the way of Tybalt and exit stage left before the book closes. This gives a sense of tension, as although a character may be daft, you still root for them. 

The greatest asset of the book remains the Miner. She is that classic women with no name, entering a situation without baggage or loyalty. Constantly she takes actions that stir the hornets' nest and another great action sequence or fight breaks out. Among all the fisticuffs, Murphy still finds time to develop the characters. The Miner does have small changes of heart throughout the book, but thankfully she never deviates too much from her anarchic nature. 

Despite of, or maybe because of, the abundance of violence, swearing, drinking and drug taking in Red Noise, the book is one of the most fun I have read in a while. It is so outlandish in parts as to be comedic but never forgets to build relational dynamics that make sense and give purpose to character’s actions. The Miner herself is a joy to follow. Any fan of revenge mission films, or books, will find a world they will love, with the bonus of some black comedy. 

Written on 14th July 2020 by .

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