Space Cops: Kill Station by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood
Avon Books, 1992
Price I paid: $1.50
Life is cheap at the farthest reaches of the space frontier—where the scum of the universe rule, unhampered by the forces of law and order.
Investigating the mysterious disappearance of numerous space-going freight vessels, Solar Patrol Rangers Evan Glyndower and Joss O’Bannion enter this wasteland of humanity—well-armed but outnumbered…and alone.
But these seeming acts of interplanetary piracy mask a far more insidious threat—a conspiracy of chaos and terror that will plunge Glyndower and O’Bannion into the deadliest firefight of their lives—to save themselves…and their solar system.
I almost read a different book this week. I had another one picked out when I decided to look up the author, just on a whim. I turned out that that author was not only still alive, he’s also a tremendous butthole with a tendency toward self-Googling and bringing his small but devoted manchild fanbase to bully the people who disagree with him. I may not have been worthy of his attention, but I didn’t want to risk it. Am I a coward? Sure, maybe, but I don’t need or want to deal with that crap.
It’s not often that I get to dodge a bullet like that and know about it. It’s a time for celebration.
So to get the taste of sad puppy out of my mouth, I went in the opposite direction. I know that Diane Duane is a lovely person because I follow her on Twitter. I think she liked one of my tweets once. I’m not 100% sure on that. Don’t try to verify it.
Holy crap, she wrote an X-Com novelization! It is imperative that I find it.
I found it. It’s kind of expensive! I won’t buy it today.
I assume that her husband and co-author of Space Cops, Peter Morwood, is also lovely people, but if he has a Twitter, I can’t find it.
Frequent readers might remember that I’ve read the first book in the Space Cops series, Mindblast. I recall finding it a refreshingly competent and enjoyable cop procedural that was also set in space, altogether more impressive because I find that scifi and mystery is a hard combination to get right.
Kill Station is more of that.
We’re reintroduced to our heroes, Evan Glyndower and Joss O’Bannion, and they’re the same guys as before. They’re still Space Cop partners, and they’ve been given their own ship and sent out to the far reaches of the Solar System to investigate something.
The Duane/Morwood team wrote a good buddy cop duo without falling into a lot of clichés. A few of the tropes are there: Evan is a bit more seasoned than Joss, for instance. But on the whole, the series avoids the good cop/bad cop, smart cop/dumb cop, by-the-books cop/loose cannon cop, white cop/black cop tropes. I appreciate that.
The guys are more like the Odd Couple than anything. One’s messy, the other’s clean. One’s got a suit of mechanized armor, the other doesn’t. You know the drill.
In the years since I read the first book, I’ve become a bit more aware of the alarming militarization of police forces. I know, I should have been aware of it before 2016. It’s been going on since the seventies. Regardless of my previous failure as a decent human being, I’m aware of it now, and that has caused me to worry about an element of these books. The mech suit.
Evan’s mech suit is insanely powerful. It’s rated to lift nine tons. It has about a dozen guns on it. It can shoot lasers, grenades, rockets. It used to have a literal nuclear weapon, but that was taken away.
This is the future of police work…if we don’t do something about it first.
Of course, our heroes are good guys. The Solar Patrol is a force for real justice, not a tool for propping up the privileged. At least, I assume so based on these two books. Both of the books feature our heroes taking down very rich people for exploiting poorer people. I don’t know what the other space cops are out there doing, but on the whole, this is a decent society depicted.
In this one, Evan and Joss are investigating some mining ships in the asteroid belt that have disappeared.
Actually I have to stop right here and talk about my main issue with this book. I don’t know where in the Solar System our heroes are supposed to be. When I think asteroid belt, I think of the rocks between Mars and Jupiter. However, this book refers to the place as “The Outer Belt” and I don’t know what they mean by that. They might be in the Kuiper Belt? But it’s never called that. Supporting this theory is the first sentence of the book:
They were two hours past Jupiter and heading for the Outer Belt…pg 1
But check out this line later in the book:
…it was certainly an astonishing place to find halfway between Mars and Jupiter.pg 69
So I just don’t know. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing inherent to either belt that means the story has to take place there, except perhaps for matters of distance.
My pet theory is that there’s another asteroid belt out there somewhere that we, in the dang old 21st century, don’t know about. What supports this theory is the writing and tone of the book. See, one of the things I like about these novels is that the world is a lived-in place and our authors don’t go out of their way to exposition us about things that the characters take for granted. So there’s no need for someone to go “Oh yes, the Outer Belt. Discovered by Ambroży Wójcik in 2123 during his famous experiment with the Park Reverse Drive, itself invented by…[six pages]…but of course you knew all that.”
Anyway, yeah, there are some disappearing asteroid miners on the lawless frontier of the Solar System. Like too many things, “lawless” seems to be a synonym for “impoverished,” but to be fair, most of the “lawless” talk comes from the book cover, not from the characters. They are sympathetic to the situation and, when they gripe about it, the blame does not fall down to the bottom. This book does not advocate Broken Windows Policing, as far as I can tell.
Our heroes make some friends, get into scrapes, and bicker with their supervisor about their expense account, gradually learning a few things about the situation. At first people think that the miners are disappearing because of claim jumpers or pirates. It becomes clear that something more sinister is afoot. Something a lot more well-funded.
First, the fellas find one of the missing mining ships. It’s been completely encased in an asteroid. Later, they find a few more of the missing ships in a junkyard. Someone tries to murder the guys a few times, which makes it seem like they’re on the right track.
Evan meets a woman named Mell and they fall in love. Joss gets suspicious, because someone somewhere is feeding information to whoever the bad guy is, and he figures it’s the beautiful mechanic lady in love with his partner. This causes some friction between our heroes, which is dispelled by the need for professionalism and duty.
A lot of the investigation involves tech that we don’t know exists until the guys use it, but nothing feels like it comes out of nowhere. The tech fits the setting and the guys don’t have any deus ex machina devices.
More police procedural in space stuff leads them to find a ship with a ludicrously powerful and expensive laser weapon. They call it a braided laser. The ship itself is nothing special other than appearing to be made of the parts of disappeared mining vessels our heroes were brought in to look for.
If I have any complaints about this book, it’s how the whole conspiracy was revealed. See, Mell gets kidnapped (Or was she in on it the whole time? Nope, kidnapped.) and taken to the enemy space station. The guys go after her. At least they don’t charge in, guns blazing with erotically charged anger. This whole thing is pretty good, if a little slow going. The guys wait around until several ships, eleven I think, exit the space station and plot a course for Earth. Figuring that chasing them would be a suicide move, they head for the station. There’s some fun action sequence and Evan gets to use his mech suit to explode some heads. Somewhere along the way, he discovers Mell.
Now here’s the part that disappointed me: The whole conspiracy is revealed when Mell goes something like “These guys were so proud of their whole conspiracy and overconfident I guess so they just described the whole thing to me and here it is.”
I mean, it’s great that she’s more than a MacGuffin, at least. I guess what disappoints me is that the conspiracy is resolved not through investigation, but through the dumbness of the conspirators and in one big burst of expozish.
Anyway, the main bad guy is the CEO of a megacorporation that’s started losing profits. Once upon a time the company made a lot of money in the arms trade, but because World Peace happened, that fell by the wayside, and the company never caught up. The war profiteer is going to use his megalazers to start a war and then profit off of that war.
It’d be funny if it weren’t believable!
What I don’t get is how the guy intends to start the war. I mean, he has a plan, and it’s to destroy a space station named HighLands, which is a big monument to human cooperation. This will presumably plunge humanity back into its old war-loving ways. How? I don’t know.
I mean, the guy is also a racist ultranationalist, so I guess there’s no reason to assume he’s smart. He’s also Japanese, which I have mixed feelings about. I know people can be racist ultranationalists and also not white, but it still feels weird on some level, given the current climate.
The rest of the book is our Space Cops chasing down the bad guy ships before they get to the Friendernational Space Station and blow it up. There is a space battle. Joss is an amazing space pilot, and Evan is able to use his mech suit in space to do amazing space stuff. It’s all very Iron Man Meets Luke Skywalker, which I guess is a real possibility now.
ALL HAIL THE MOUSE
Making it even more Iron Man is the fact that this evil racist CEO, Takawabara, has his own mech suit, and it’s better than Evan’s! Oh no! They fight a bunch, like five pages’ worth, and even though Takawabara’s suit has the megalolazzzzgun on it and a full-on nuke, Evan finally wins, the day is saved, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Despite getting a little snarky with the end of the book there, I want to emphasize that it, like its predecessor, was extremely decent. I may have liked this one a touch less than the other, but I still liked it.
If there’s a mandatory nitpicking section to this review, it should include the fact that the book was fond of double punctuation marks like !!, or ??, or the occasional !?. I know I use them sometimes, but I’m not a novelist. It looks weird in print.
And there’s my aforementioned beef with the conspiracy reveal and the fact that a hero’s girlfriend had to be kidnapped to get our fellas to the final goal, but compared to so many other books, this was fine.
It’s also surprisingly progressive, considering that it’s about, y’know, cops. It’s a book where the word nationalism is actually considered a filthy word. A world where preying on the poor is an activity that gets investigated and has consequences. Our heroes start the book by investigating missing miners at the ass-end of space, and there’s never a hint that it’s because it’s hurting some rich guy’s profits. It turns out that some rich guy’s profits are, in fact, the problem all along.
It’s not perfect, by any means. Evan Glyndower is a police tank and the concept makes me nervous.
I’m not sure how much I’d call this series copaganda, but it’s not…not that.
If you’ve enjoyed the Expanse novels, you’d probably like Space Cops, although I doubt Evan and Joss will ever go in the crazy (and excellent) direction that the crew of the Roci has. No protomolecules in this series.
In the end I’m quite glad I that I skipped the book I was going to read and went for this one instead, for a lot of reasons. I look forward to reading book three in the Space Cops series, the amazingly-titled High Moon. Not sure when I’ll get around to it, but I’ll let you know when I do.