Title: The Dark Colony (Asteroid Police Book 1
Author: Richard Penn
Price: $3.99 (ebook) / $9.99 (paperback)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib
I first heard of Richard Penn via another reviewer, who made an off-hand comment about Penn’s second book, Freedom at Feronia. Since both books were $3.99 ebooks, I bought them and read them in order. My overall assessment is merely okay.
The Dark Colony, today’s book, is set on a colony orbiting the very real asteroid Terpsichore. Our heroine, Lisa, is an 18-year-old junior cop in the very small colony (around 400 people all told) whom, in Chapter 1, finds a dead body. What’s especially shocking is that said dead body is the first stranger Lisa has ever met.
Thus begins my many, many heartburns with the book. Penn, in an attempt to be realistic, has kept his travel between points in space slow – arguably too slow, and too infrequent to support a realistic economy. I have other world-building issues, such as a colony spun to produce 1/100th of a G gravity.
My biggest heartburn begins when the investigation gets up to speed. Nobody would reasonably expect the police department of a 400-person village to handle a murder all on their own. So they call for help from Mars. But because of the travel issues, Mars is really just computer help and talking heads on a video screen. Yet when Lisa is told by Mars to arrest people she’s known her whole life, she does so without a peep! Moreover, the locals stand for it.
Now, I have to say I found The Dark Colony a refreshing change of pace from typical SF asteroids of late, which seem to be infested with gun-toting libertarians. The economy and politics is much more (realistically, in my view) collectivist. But I do believe than Penn has tossed the baby out with the bathwater in regards to how people would realistically behave. Simply put, if The Authorities can’t actually put boots on the ground (or whatever passes for ground locally) they aren’t really in authority.
I wish I could say that the breathless prose and other stylistic points salvaged the story for me. They don’t. The prose is workmanlike at best, and a fair amount of the dialog is maid-and-butler. I get the feeling that Penn hasn’t ever lived in a small town, which is reflected in his characters. Like much self-published stuff, The Dark Colony is an interesting concept not well executed.