Dark Star, A Triumph for Those Who Like Detectives Haunted and Noir Coal Black

As Jim Thompson said, “Life is a bucket of shit with a barbed wire handle.” This is certainly the case in Vox, the city in which  the sci-fi noir masterpiece Dark Star by Oliver Langmead is set.

Dark Star is published by Unsung stories, a fiction imprint of London-based independent press Red Squirrel Publishing, Unsung Stories are publishers of literary and ambitious speculative fiction that defies expectation and seek to publish unforgettable stories, from the varied worlds of genre fiction – science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and all the areas in-between.

Oliver Langmead was born in Edinburgh and lives in Glasgow. He has an LLB in Law, an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study, an MLitt in Fantasy, and is currently a doctoral researcher at the University of Glasgow. His first book, Dark Star, featured in the Guardian’s Best Books of 2015, and his second book, Metronome, was launched earlier this year.

“Can you think of a reason someone might
Leave her with her veins full of liquid light?”

Dark Star follows detective Virgil Yorke, a battle scarred police officer called to a mysterious murder scene. Drawn deeper into a tangled web of political unrest, wealth, power and murder, Yorke must subdue his own demons to  unravel the truth buried deep in the heart of Vox, a city plunged into darkness following the death of the planet’s sun.

“I don’t know why I keep telling my lie:
That I can fix the mess I made of me.”

The power of Virgil Yorke is in his anti-hero status. He is a man perceived as a hero  by the rest of Vox but who internally struggles to make sense of his place in the world. Beset by loneliness and addiction, he is a noir masterpiece. Capitalising on the best noir devices, we have a battle scarred hero, who is flawed and broken down by life but still driven by the desire to see justice done. Yorke is at home in the darkness, doing shady deals with gangsters, and is allowed into the light, given entry to the hallowed halls of the wealthy with a flash of his badge. He can also be an unreliable narrator, cast adrift in a world of Prometheus, the drug of choice for those in Vox who wish to escape the shadows, and deception.

Alongside Yorke’s uncertainty, there is also a deliciously vague quality to Langmead’s writing, with no concrete resolution, echoing the evils of the real world, in which justice is not always served and good and evil are not absolute.

Dark Star is a triumph and Oliver Langmead is a force to be reckoned with

Langmead plays with a number of interesting themes in Dark Star. Central to the plot is class tension. We see the horror of a life lived in the dark, punctured only by the weakly blinking lights of capitalism, shopfronts and bars dimly illuminating the unending night faced by those driven mad by their own poverty. In contrast, those of wealth and status get to bask in the glow of limitless light. This is a struggle keenly felt by Yorke who sees the worst of Vox reflected in his own desires. Another theme is, unsurprisingly, that of power, who possesses it and who desires it. Langmead has managed to take these often utilised themes and spin them into a nightmarish vision of the future.

The chilling reality that Langmead conjures highlights that however much things change, they remain the same. Greed and capitalism prevails and the vulnerable, the poor and the lost suffer at the whims of the powerful. The police remain corruptible and evil will flourish when people do nothing. The casualties are many in Dark Star, including  Yorke, who is the architect of his own destruction. No happy endings here, as with any great noir the often bleak reality of life is laid unflinchingly bare for the reader to choke on.

It is not possible to overstate how magnificent Dark Star is. As a take on sci-fi noir, it is a spectacular tale of betrayal, intrigue and violence. The fact that Langmead has managed to create all of this drama, mystery and character development in such poetic form is a feat worthy of recognition. There is simply nothing else like it and that is enough to create a maelstrom of joy and envy as the reader revels in Langmead’s raw and haunting talent whilst simultaneously berating themselves for not having written it.

This is a book for those of you who like your detectives haunted and your noir coal black. The structure of Dark Star makes it easy to devour quickly in grasping, greedy handfuls as the lyricism of Langmead’s words carries the reader along in a viscous river of nefarious deeds.

Dark Star is a triumph and Oliver Langmead is a force to be reckoned with. He has demonstrated not only the ability to craft a noir masterpiece which draws on all the finest elements of the genre without being derivative, but has also interwoven a thrilling take on sci-fi which results in a vivid, evocative and unique tale.

  • Dark Star by Oliver Langmead, is published by Unsung Stories and is available now.

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