Space Cops: Mindblast

SpaceCops MindBlastSpace Cops: Mindblast by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood
Avon Books, 1991
Price I paid: $1.95

HYPER-2: A dangerous new drug manufactured in zero gravity—an irresistible essence that enriches every thought, enhances every sensation.

Officer Lon Salonikis discovered the dark secret behind the Hyperprocess—a conspiracy of mind-altering proportions buried in the deviant quarter Freedom II. And now Salonikis has been terminated.

Only Solar Patrol Rangers Even Glyndower and Joss O’Bannion are fearless enough to venture downlevel—courting certain death to unmask their former partner’s assassin…and to learn the terrible price of the ultimate ecstasy.

Holy carps.

The cover of this book, folks. I’m telling you. That is amazing. I don’t know what Armor Guy is doing there other than showing off the fact that his armor has muscles too. I guess he’s also shooting upward at something, probably one of those planes in the background that were never once in this book, but I also feel like he’s bending really unnaturally for that. Then again, I’ve never worn body armor like that, so what do I know?

His buddy down there is pretty special too. I like the lightning coming off his gun. I feel like that would imply there’s a short in it somewhere, but maybe that’s what it’s supposed to do. That hat, though. I love that hat.

Fun fact: At one point in the book a character, one I’m pretty sure is supposed to be represented by that picture, comments on how he wishes he had brought a hat.

That cover is by Dorian Vallejo, son of the great Boris, and his artwork definitely has a style to it that’s hard to dislike. While his father had this thing for scantily-clad everybodies, Dorian seems to be a bit more on the conservative side. From what I’ve read, he left the sf and fantasy art scene, presumably after being compared to his dad one too many times.

Once again we see an example of cover text blowing a setting way out of proportion. These particular Space Cops are not some kind of galactic border patrol. They don’t leave the Solar System. No one ever mentions leaving the Solar System. I’m not sure if mankind has left the Solar System.

I’m not exactly sure when this book takes place, but at one point I was very amused by somebody calling a wine “Château Fancypants 2016.”

And furthermore, the drug in question does not lead to “the ultimate ecstasy.” It does something different. I’ll get to that.

With just the cover in mind, I was expecting a pretty awful book. With the authors in mind, though, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve read at least one other Diane Duane book in my day, a Star Trek tie-in named My Enemy, My Ally, and I have fond memories of it. Of the many, many Trek books I read as a teenager, I would rank it in the top ten percent. To be fair, though, I haven’t read it in at least fifteen years, so who knows how well it holds up. Still, I remember it bringing a lot of great things to the table in regards to the Romulans (who, according to Duane, call themselves the “Rihannsu”), and I think I’ll give it another look soon.

But this isn’t about a book about Romulans, it’s a book about Space Cops.

Fun fact: Calling your book anything starting with the word “Space” is going to make it hard to take seriously. Coupling that with some Vallejo art is going to make it even more difficult.

I guess by this point I’ve described everything but the book itself. So how was it?

Folks, this novel was some pretty damn solid science fiction police procedural.

I’ve railed against the idea of a mystery set in a science fiction universe before. The problem is that in a sci-fi universe, it’s difficult to set up a mystery when literally anything can happen. It’s no fun when the solution turns out to be, completely out of nowhere, Colonel Mustard with the wormhole-maser from six planets over.

The authors managed to avoid a lot of those problems, though. For one, this was some hard science fiction. This setting had no psychics, no FTL, no teleporters. What it did have was tablet computers, cloud storage, and walking-tank mech suits, putting it fairly in line with the present day.

Our heroes are Joss O’Bannion and Evan Glyndower (pronounced Glun-dooer, because he is from Wales). Joss is fairly new to the Solar Police (never once called Space Cops in the text, although the term “sops” is common). He’s smart, though. He’s into chemistry and old-timey television.

If I had any kind of problem with this book it was with the concept of characters in the future being totally into “retro” stuff that is just our present day popular culture. It’s never struck me as useful for a character to have that trait. Instead it just turns out to be a way to make references to things the reader is familiar with. At its best, it’s a way for a character to go “Man, those folks back in the 20th century sure did like some kooky stuff,” and that is also annoying.

So that’s Joss’s thing and, while it bothers me in principle, I’m just gonna say that this book didn’t overdo it and I was able to get past it.

Joss gets a call one day, interrupting his vacation on the Moon, to say that he’s needed on a case and that he’s being paired with Glyndower, whose partner was just killed in action while investigating some fishy stuff. Their mission, then, is to figure out what the fishy stuff was and why it was worth killing a Space Cop over. Joss and Evan meet, have a requisite getting-to-know-you session, and then go about their business.

Another thing about this book that I like: the protagonists are competent at their jobs while still being human enough to identify with. Hot damn, Duane and Morwood, you’re blowing my mind here.

At first Joss is convinced that this is a “brain and brawn” team. This theory is supported by the fact that Evan is a huge guy, made huger by the fact that he wears a mechanized combat suit most everywhere he goes. The suit itself is pretty nifty, described in terms that make it seem pretty believable, and never once did it make me go “Oh, well, this is the thing that solves all the problems.” It also turns out that Evan is not a big dumb ox in power armor, and that both of the characters contribute to solving the mystery in more ways than just guns (although the guns are pretty cool).

The mystery starts off seeming like some industrial espionage. The whole book takes place on a space station called Freedom, set at the L5 point. This book never actually said which planet’s L5 this station is set at, but with all the traffic between it, Earth, and the Moon, I’m gonna assume it was the Earth’s. I only bring this up because exploration of the Solar System seems to be well under way in this setting, with a character mentioning a trip to Pluto like it was no big deal.

That’s one of the things I most want to praise about this book. The authors did one of the best jobs I’ve ever seen making this setting a lived-in place. This future is fantastic by our standards, but to the characters, it’s just there. They are familiar with it. Most things don’t need commenting on because they are taken for granted. When our heroes show up at Freedom, there’s no overpowering sense of awe at this miles-long space station. Heck, Joss visited it once while he was in college for spring break or something. Ho-hum, welcome to space.

I absolutely love it when an author can pull this off. It makes the characters feel more real, for one thing, if they’re not walking around all goggle-eyed at things they ought to be seeing everyday. It also skips a lot of needless exposition, making the story click by at a better pace. There’s no reason for one character to explain to the other how the Atomic Slice Drive works if they both know. And if there’s no reason for them to care, there’s no reason for us to care, unless it’s a plot point, in which case my point stands even better, because if an author is explaining something that is a plot point, it means that that point won’t get lost among all the other sci-fic mumbo-jumbo that they felt the need to populate this universe with.

So the guys are sent to investigate some possible espionage, which is what Evan’s old partner was supposed to be investigating when he got killed. The space station plays host to at least two major pharmaceutical companies and both are convinced that somebody is managing to steal secrets and broadcast them to competitors. Considering that both companies have some high-tech cyber-security, the leaks have to be coming from somewhere on the station.

While investigating, our heroes meet some people who, in good police procedural form, don’t seem like suspects at first but then turn out to be the people who did it because they have seeeeecrets. Such people include the smart and sexy head of PR for the station, a kindly drug developer whose goal in life is to help combat his beloved daughter’s tragic developmental disabilities, and a guy named Cooch.

Along the way they also learn that there is a drug problem on the station. Furthermore, the station is in shambles. The local police are barely paid enough to survive, crime and vandalism are rampant, and things are just falling apart. But the main thing is the drug. Nobody knows where it’s coming from, and its results are deadly.

The drug is actually a mental stimulant. The authors seem to have done some research here. The drug lowers the resistance of the myelin in the brain, ultimately resulting in people being able to think faster and smarter than they normally do. This comes at a price, though. While the drug isn’t chemically addictive, its results certainly are. A person takes the drug, feels real smart for a while, and then gets “dumb” again. Of course they’re going to want more after that, and so things progress from there until they burn their brains out.

For the longest time it seems like these two plots are unconnected, but late in the game, of course, it turns out that they are. The kindly scientist created the drug accidentally while trying to develop a treatment for his daughter. Once the sexy PR lady found out about it she gave him a lot of money for the formula and started setting up cookshops in the bowels of the station while he was able to use the dirty money to do more legitimate research.

The people doing the security leaks were doing it because they were being paid in drugs, which, as we learned, are highly addictive.

I don’t want to go into too much detail on this book because I think it wouldn’t do it justice. There is a lot going on in this book, but since it’s a police procedural there are just so many details that any kind of summary could easily start to get bogged down in the various red herrings and so forth. Of course, in barebonesing it like that I’ve completely spoiled the ending, but I hope you’ll take my word for it that this book is definitely worth reading, even with the ending spoiled.

Or better yet, just go ahead and grab one of the sequels and let me know if they’re any good. I’ll be on the lookout for them.

While I don’t want to make it seem like this book was a mindblowingly good lost science fiction classic that deserves awards, I just want to point out how refreshingly competent it was. Everything from the setting to the research to the characterization was just so well-done, even if the combination of all those things was a bit less than spectacular. This isn’t a book that deserves to be re-read yearly, looking for new clues about the nature of life as told by the authors. It’s just some darn good pulp science fiction that deserves a read. It’s entertainment, for one thing, but that doesn’t mean the authors didn’t take it seriously. They certainly did. I get the feeling that they take their genre fiction quite seriously in general, even if they’re not setting out to change the world with it. I have to give them some mad props.

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