Red Noise by John P. Murphy has been described as an Akira Kurosawa and spaghetti western-inspired sci-fi romp. Having only a passing familiarity with either of those, I was hoping for some epic Kill Bill-in-space vibes, and I’m pleased to report that’s exactly what I got.
‘A half-empty station wasn’t so bad. Ideal, in some ways. Sell the ore. Pay the debt. Don’t attract attention. Get the hell out of there. No problem.’
Once military special ops, The Miner now pursues a life of peace, mining remote asteroids and tending to her collection of bonsais and orchids. After four months of blissful solitude, she finds herself low on supplies and is forced to dock at the remote Station 35 also called, appropriately, Cpt John Wayne Koganusan Station.
The Miner finds herself stranded stationside after a corrupt dockmaster slaps her with bogus fees and buys her metal ore for a fraction of its worth. Greeted by armed thugs, she finds a near-abandoned facility in a turf war between two gangs. With the Head of Security bribed to turn a blind eye, The Miner is forced to take matters into her own capable hands.
Red Noise isn’t the type of book you read for deep-space exploration, intricate politics, or an in-depth character study. Red Noise is the kind of book you pick up to indulge in stylised violence and say to the oblivious person next to you ‘that gangster has it coming’, then fail to suppress your sadistic glee when That Gangster gets his face chopped off with a sword. In short, it’s non-stop action.
The story is set almost entirely in the station arcade, and Murphy salutes classic Western films with a frontier town-like setting. On one side of the galleria, the hotel proprietor squats in his establishment while his minions do his dirty work. Immediately opposite, his defected right hand has taken over the casino, sparking the current stand-off. Somewhere in the middle, the head of security (sheriff) accepts hush money from both sides, while the ever-impartial bar owner just wants some damn peace, or at least, enough to keep selling booze. My favourite character other than The Miner was the town drunk-cum-Mayor, who is full of exceptional insults like ‘semi-sentient barnacle’ and ’emotionally stunted ass hair lice’.
While The Miner’s shady past remains more or less a mystery, watching her take charge and mess with the station’s incompetents is fantastically fun.
A slowly escalating conflict and plenty of twists make this retelling of Yojimbo an exciting read. While I was expecting more of a John Wick-style climax, Murphy leans more heavily into the antihero theme towards the end, and I personally found the middle portion of the story the most entertaining.
I’m glad I finally got to read this exciting action film of a book, and I was so pleased to see I made the dedication, which reads ‘to everyone who just wants to be left alone‘.
I highly recommend Red Noise to fans of anything to do with Quentin Tarantino.