Durango is a sixteen-year-old soldier with souped-up symbiarmor and a sassy AI planted in his brain. He once held a position of prestige in the Regulator forces of Mars, but has since been disgraced, reduced to a dalit—an outcast—surviving solely on small mercenary jobs. He’s just what the people of Fisher Four have been looking for. Children have been disappearing from this forgotten mining colony, taken as tribute by the Draeu, never to return. The Draeu are cannibals. They believe a treasure is hidden in the dead tunnels of Fisher Four’s mines, and they’ll do anything to get it. The miners are just as desperate to keep them out. They’ll even hire a dalit.
Black Hole Sun by David MacInnis Gill is an amusing, action-packed sci-fi romp through the dystopian dusts of Mars. Readers have seen stories like it before—Some have compared it to Firefly because of its (very) vague Western flair and the snappy interactions between its characters—so it doesn’t break any new ground, but that doesn’t stop it from being a fun read. The banter that flows between Durango and his AI, Mimi, and later the davos (squad) that he assembles keeps the story flowing at a jaunty pace. The story itself is heavily plot-focused, which makes it great for readers who just want a straightforward adventure, as opposed to loads of eccentric world-building and science-babble. There is just enough setting detail to make the world of futuristic Mars interesting, but it never gets bogged down in itself. It doesn’t even dwell very much on its dystopian elements—they’re just a part of the setting, which is refreshing, considering how heavy-handed dystopian reads can be about their settings’ injustices. Durango isn’t interested in overthrowing injustice, anyway, but just finishing up this job, and the scale that this lends to the novel is another of its refreshing parts. It’s cool to meet a hero who’s not out on an epic quest to save the whole solar system.
For the kind of novel that it is, its weak points are few. There’s not much in the way of character arcs, but the characters themselves are fun enough to read that it doesn’t matter. Some of the reveals are predictable, and the whole mechanic behind Durango’s disgrace—that, when a davos leader is killed in battle, his soldiers are expected to commit honorable suicide to follow him (Obviously, Durango didn’t)—is somewhat silly. Granted, it fits in with the Regulators’ strict adherence to their Tenets and their Viking-like interests in Valhalla and Beautiful Deaths, but on a basic level, a tradition like that is simply a waste of valuable soldiers.
Overall, though, Black Hole Sun is a space adventure well worth its quick read.