Bubbles in Space: Tropical Punch by S.C. Jensen is a cyberpunk detective novel that manages to somehow be both light hearted and entertaining while also dark as fuck. It’s really all about your attitude in the dystopian setting of HoloCity. A place where the vast majority of humans live in utter poverty, life is cheap, and death is free. It’s not quite grimdark but it’s not-not grimdark either, being a bit like Ciaphas Cain in the Warhammer 40K universe. The protagonist’s humorous and can-do attitude contrasts against an utterly crappy universe.
The premise of Bubbles in Space: Tropical Punch is Bubbles Marlowe is a barely capable private investigator who royally screws up her most recent case. Hired to protect a young woman, she shows up just in time to see her decapitated. Then she sees an identical woman also meet her end. Bubbles almost dies herself but manages to escape and, through a lottery she didn’t enter, wins a ticket that puts her on a luxury space cruise. When she arrives, things get (somehow) even worse.
Bubble is a recovering alcoholic who lost her arm due to the Chief of Police in HoloCity ordering a hit on her for not dropping a case. Now equipped with a new cybernetic arm, one she’s disappointed doesn’t give her super strength, she’s upset the Chief of Police still considers her a loose end. She has no interest in actually solving the cases she’s presented but just wants to enjoy a brief respite from people trying to kill her.
I absolutely loved Bubbles in Space: Tropical Punch from beginning to end. There’s a weird and wacky supporting cast with such oddballs as Hammet the SmartPet pig that serves as Bubbles’ best friend, Cosmo the billionaire makeup magnate that acts like a rock star, and Rae the cerulean haired scientist who just wants to do Bubbles a favor only to bitterly come to regret it. I also loved the villains that include the aforementioned corrupt police chief and a luddite cult with a secret.
The combination of film noir and literary detective stories with cyberpunk is something that has always worked together well, starting with Blade Runner and having many other variations throughout the years. Bubbles is a lot closer to the fedora and trench coat type despite the fact she has attire utterly disimilar. S.C. Jensen even incorporates a bunch of 20s, 30s, and 40s slang modified to be futuristic. It makes the setting subtly “off” from modern parlace.
The best part of Bubbles in Space: Tropical Punch is definitely the space cruise section as poor Bubbles is shown to be utterly bamboozled by the life of the super-rich. The luxuries available to them while she just wants to be able to keep the lights on and eat is a source of much subtle social commentary. Bubbles is also not particularly welcomed by the chief of security and Admiral for the space liner fleet. Which is perfectly expected for a fugitive that isn’t actually rich but on someone else’s charity.
Bubbles in Space: Tropical Punch is a great indie cyberpunk novel and one I strongly recommend. The characters are extremely entertaining, the comedy is on point, the world-building is well-done, and the action is good. I picked up the next volumes in the series immediately after and hope to read the entire series.