Ain’t the Kind of Place to Raise Your Kids

Places in the Darkness — Chris Brookmyre

Places In The Dark

2017’s Places in the Darkness is a standalone near-future police procedural thriller by Chris Brookmyre.

230,000 kilometres above the Earth’s surface, Ciudad de Cielo is supposed to be the shining city on the hill, a utopia where the technology needed to reach the stars will be developed. It should be filled with pristine rooms and corridors filled with hard-working, well behaved idealists, a glorious celebration of humanity’s loftiest goals.

In actual fact, some fool staffed CdC with actual humans, not flawless paragons. Almost every vice known to humanity exists and is catered to by someone within the great space city. Not murder, however. That’s one failing not found in space.

Until now.


For bent private cop Nicola “Nikki Fixx” Freeman, CdC has been a paradise. There are so many ways for a high-ranking Seguridad officer to make a little extra money on CdC, from protection rackets to smuggling all the little luxuries CdC’s managers are convinced that their subordinates should have the moral strength to live without. The flayed, dismembered body of a criminal rival is an unwelcome change in the routine. Not only does it suggest someone may have decided to abandon a gentleman’s agreement between criminals (limiting gang warfare to avoid police crackdown), the murder could not have come at worse time. It could give the Federation of National Government the excuse it needs to take over law enforcement on CdC.

For squeaky clean criminologist Dr. Alice Blake, the murder may be the lever she needs to get a good, close look at reality within CdC’s Wheel One. Her purpose is not mere documentation. Understanding what’s actually going on in Wheel One is the first step to reform, to sweeping away all the smuggling, prostitution, gambling and worse that the ingrates in Wheel One enjoy and tolerate. Partnering with Nikki is a key part of the process, because Nikki is very high on Alice’s list of people to send back to Earth.

Except …

The sudden escalation from merely brutality to cold-blooded murder isn’t because some criminal mastermind has decided to collect all the chips. In fact, from a criminal point of view it makes no sense. It draws far too much attention to CdC. There is another, much darker game going on, one in which the naïve Dr. Blake will find herself playing a crucial role. Fixx may be Blake’s best hope of finding her way through the trap waiting for her on CdC.

If only Fixx herself had not been framed for murder and was not herself on the run….

 ~oOo~

It turns out “how do I handle minor variations in author’s bylines so it doesn’t screw up my author’s side bar” is a problem I have not yet solved to my satisfaction. Do I list this as “Chris Brookmyre” despite having reviewed a book by the same author under the byline Christopher Brookmyre and create the illusion there are two authors with similar names? Or do I credit this book with the author’s actual name previous byline, even though I accept pseudonyms elsewhere? Comments invited, although I think the epiphany about names versus bylines is what I needed

It’s a sad commentary on our times that I find it hard to accept idealism as a plausible reason to invest billions in a giant space station most of the way to the Moon, particularly when the end goal is a generation ship from which nobody living will benefit directly. This is just one way in which this is an oddly retro-SF novel1. Of course, there are far worse failings than “I find this future is too idealistic.”

The fantastic space cities of the 1970s must have inspired elements of this book. Other elements seem to be based on the history of isolated industrial facilities back on planet Earth. Humans will have their entertainments. If their bosses decline to supply them, perhaps because they are puritanical prigs, someone else will step up to fill this economic niche. Nikki has built her career in space doing just this. The author is also savvy to the lure of hierarchy. If you offer humans the physical means to stratify their society — two fairly isolated space-station wheels, the second of which benefited from the learning experience presented by building the first — humans will sort the population into the haves who are worthy of the upscale Wheel Two and the rabble consigned to Wheel One.

There are some world-building flubs, like the periodic wheel-stalls2, but on the whole this is an acceptable procedural. Fixx and Blake are fairly stock characters and experienced readers will be familiar with large swaths of the plot but the situation they are in is SFnal: the gap between idealism and the actual behavior of humans in their natural state … as played out on a space station equipped with some very remarkable cutting edge technology. I prefer darkly comedic Brookmyre to straight-out noir. Your tastes may differ.

Places in the Darkness is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: Retro also because the author imagines that a significant piece of space hardware will be named after a long-dead SF author whose works seem to be mostly of interest only to a dwindling collection of aging SF fans.

2:

Alice is still spinning from Boutsikari’s intervention when she feels as much as hears this deep, grinding crunch. It is like that moment just before a train or a bus comes to a stop, when she can still sense the forward momentum. Except that when the wheel stops, that momentum is multiplied by a hundred, and there’s no gravity to stop her after the jolt.

The novel is oddly bereft of actual units where CdC itself is concerned but CdC is big enough for 200,000 people. Say each wheel is a kilometre in diameter, and the centrifugal effect at the rim is 10 m/s^2

a = v^2/r or v = square root (ar), where a is acceleration, v is velocity and r is radius.

If a is 10 m/s^2 and r is 500 m, then V is about 70 m/s or about 250 km/hr. That “jolt” should involve more splutting as people slam into walls at 250 km/s than it does. Plus how does a giant wheel even jam to a halt? Where is all that momentum going? Later on, someone connected to the surface lets go to let the rim glide by under them. I think what should happen is they would be flung away from the rim at 250 km/hr.

This isn’t the first Orbit book I’ve read where the authors lacked a simple intuitive grasp of rotational physics. I blame the mollycoddling ethic of today that has denied so many younger people the answers to questions like “how far can a rapidly spinning merry go round hurl a small child?” and “How fast does a VW Beetle need to corner before the teenager on the running board is ripped off on an independent tangent by simple inertia?”


Comments

  • There was a Ben Bova story that had the exact same problem: someone stops the wheel -- cold! -- and all that happens is, gravity instantly goes away.

    If you allow a few seconds of deceleration, it's a solvable problem. You then get several seconds of being mashed hard against a wall, but it's a lot better than a hard stop. Slowing tens of thousands of tons of mass to a halt in just a few seconds is left as an exercise for the student; I say, handwave mumble flywheels.

    Doug M.

  • JVjr

    I suppose that full 1 g is pointlessly much for practical reasons and 0,6-0,8 would be just enough; but aparently Brookmyre doesn't mention significantly diminished gravity, so...
    However just 1 km diameter seems way too little for 115 thousand people: A Stanford torus was supposed to house 10 thousand in 1800m diameter. Can't you do a rough calculation based on, say, North American suburban population density?

  • James Davis Nicoll

    Brookmyre's model is closer to oil rigs than the old space cities so I'd expect higher densities than the L5 folks liked.

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