If Red Noise was a mixed drink it would be four parts A Fistful of Dollars, one-part Romeo & Juliet, poured over moon rocks and shaken, not stirred. If you are a fan of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns, you will enjoy this book. The correlations between A Fistful of Dollars and Red Noise are almost too heavy handed.
The protagonist is simply known as The Miner, a callout to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name. Much like the small Mexican town of San Miguel, Station 35 is run by two opposing crime families, but instead of the Baxters and the Rojos, we have the Feeneys and the Del Rios. There is even a scene toward the beginning where the Minor blames something on her ship’s feelings, much like Eastwood says his horse doesn’t like people laughing at it.
Instead of riding into town out of the blue, the Minor finds herself at Station 35 because she is out of fuel, out of food, and in need of selling off her load of ore to make ends meet. Unfortunately, the folks at Station 35 have other plans for her. They only pay her a third of what her haul is worth, and then charge her an astronomical fee for the fuel, leaving her with no money to stock up on her six month voyage to mine the rest of her small patch of asteroids. The folks at Station 35 effectively seal their own fate by stranding her there.
This book is carried by the characters. It’s a western, set on an asteroid, but it could have been set in a medieval village, or a modern-day small mountain town. The key is the isolation, and how these people deal with the society they created.
Feeney, the head of one crime “family” used to be in charge of all the crime on the station, but his drinking and family issues got in the way of his command, and Angela del Rio took over half the station. The two heads of family are too hardheaded to get along, and now that Angela has sensed weakness in her former boss, things have come to a head.
The miner herself is tough and determined to accomplish all her goals. Yet, it seems like she questions herself and her motives constantly throughout the story. Old morals long buried seem to rise at the most inopportune moments, preventing her from ending this crime family stalemate as quickly as she is wont to.
Action in this story ebbs and flows in an almost distracted pattern. Like smoking cigarettes and tossing the butts at randomly strewn fireworks. It doesn’t take much to set off the powder keg, but after a quick burst, everything settles right back down. The minor thugs and goons that make up the lion’s share of the crime families are at each other’s throats as soon as the alcohol runs out, but they are all done fighting before the hang over sets in.
Murphy takes the overall arc of the power struggle on Station 35 and intersperses it with some excellent character exploration and development. He introduces insignificant grunts on one side or the other, and by the end of the story, you know more about them than you ever find out about the miner who is the main protagonist. I could have flipped a coin each time he introduced one of the plethora of characters in this novel to figure out if they would be dynamic or flat.
Even though I found the references to other works a bit heavy handed at times, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It is basically a western set on an artificially clean space station instead of a dusty desert village. The broken inhabitants of which drive the story based on the barest of goals that they have left given their situation. The spark of hope that is buried under all the selfish power plays lingers in the background, but the world is too dreary and depleted of fuel for it to ever catch.