Book Review! Hull Damage by Timothy J. Meyer
I picked up Hull Damage for Kindle free on Amazon. The current rating there is 3 & a half stars, and that feels about right to me. It has a lot going on, both for and against it.
The setting is sci-fi, it feels like a cross between Heavy Metal’s dystopian space settings and Firefly’s wild lawlessness, with a healthy dose of Star Wars. The book follows the career of a space pirate and his crew, an episodic story of the ups and downs they face trying to make a name for themselves.
The writing is fairly wordy, and this is me saying this. The purple prose varies between annoying and fun, and there’s a lot of alliteration. Sometimes it felt as thought the alliteration was almost involuntary, as though the author included a little deliberately and then couldn’t get out of the habit. I felt it could have used more proofreading.
For both better and worse, the world building is amazing! It feels like there are actual cultures that have all blended together to form the societies we encounter. This is a double-edged thing, though. The language and jargon can pull you into the world, but make it difficult to get into the story.
One character in particular speaks in a patois that feels fairly authentic, but can seriously impair your ability to follow the plot. Even other characters have trouble understanding him at times.
The characters are very complex. If you’re looking for clear black & white, good guys vs bad guys, you are not looking for this book. This is grey and gray morality at best. In one particularly intense scene, one of the most sympathetic characters outright murders a man for a crime he didn’t commit. The character who set him up to take that fall rationalizes that he deserved it for other crimes along his life.
Maybe that’s what made it so compelling to me, pirates in fiction are usually portrayed as anything but. You get smugglers like Han Solo, who cold-bloodedly shot Greedo in preemptive self-defense (before that was edited out) as the darkest thing we ever saw him do. We get Mal Reynolds who, again, will kill in cold blood to prevent a future threat, but also returns what he stole when he learns it was needed medicine.
These guys aren’t like that.
These guys are ruthless pirates. This captain guns down a guy in cold blood to secure a job with a major crimelord. Characters often consider how to double-cross their comrades should it be necessary, or at least profitable, to do so.
Yet they also feel very human. They aren’t cardboard criminals without a trace of conscience or remorse. The banter between them provides some desperately needed relief from the nastiness. There’s some genuine comedy in there, too.
I found it very hard to put down. The action was fast and messy, no plan survived for long and things kept getting deeper. Even as they gain riches and prestige, they also gain enemies and higher bounties on their heads. There are constant hints to each character’s backstory, but little real information. You get the impression that there’s a vast array of secrets the book only hints at. Perhaps we’ll learn some of them in future Bad Space novels.
The end of the book included a preview of the sequel, and when (if?) that book is released I think I’ll probably buy it if it’s not especially expensive. The author clearly has good imagination, and for all its faults I did miss my stop on the way to work once because I was so absorbed in the book.
So yeah. Three and a half stars. Has a lot going for it, characters that are likeable, as fiction at least, and complex. A universe as rich and varied as anything you’ll see, if a bit confusing. Complex plans that more or less work, or sometimes fail spectacularly. Surprising depth for a book that’s mostly about witty banter, shooting people and blowing stuff up.