How Dark the World Becomes by Frank Chadwick
Sasha Naradnyo is a mid-level gangster in “Crack City,” a city literally inside a large canyon on the surface of a planet called Peezgtaan that’s mostly inhabited by the Varoki, a sentient lizard-like species. The smaller population of humans, second-class citizens on Peezgtaan, have been ghettoized to Crack City, the only place on the planet where they can breathe the air. They came to Peezgtaan to work for a pharmaceutical company that later went bust, and now they’re stuck on the hostile planet.
Sasha’s got a good heart, so he doesn’t like being a gangster, but he’s pretty talented at it. He’s smart, tough, and resourceful. But after his girlfriend betrays him and his boss tries to assassinate him, Sasha needs to get off-planet fast.
He takes a job as a bodyguard for three people who are also fleeing Peezgtaan. One is a human economist who was visiting the planet and the other two are a couple of young Varoki siblings that she, for some unknown reason, is guarding. That’s how Sasha gets entangled in a political mess that he doesn’t understand but that might have huge ramifications for the humans of Crack City. Now he’s running not just from his boss, but also from the people who want to get their hands on those Varoki kids. It’s going to be a scary and dangerous trip.
How Dark the World Becomes (2013), the first non-tie-in novel of the famous and award-winning RPG creator Frank Chadwick, is the type of science fiction that I often find myself in the mood for. It’s got:
- an imaginative alien culture with living conditions that are harsh — physically, economically, and socially — for humans
- protagonists that are smart, good, and thoughtful, but have become flexible with their ethics in order to adapt to their hostile environment
- moral quandaries
- a fast pace with lots of action scenes
Sasha may be a gangster, but he’s also a thinker. He has interesting ideas, he thinks about his own qualities and deficiencies, and he considers the consequences and morality of his thoughts and actions. He doesn’t want to be violent. He wants his beliefs and behaviors to be in sync. He’s quite likeable. So is the economist (who gives us a few lessons about capitalism, thank you very much, Baen Books) and the kids she’s protecting. There’s also a Varoki adult that we can’t help being amused by when we find out he’s fascinated by human culture and loves listening to Yanni.
For the most part, How Dark the World Becomes is exciting and moves quickly, as you might expect from an award-winning RPG designer, though there is a significant section in the middle where our heroes get bogged down in a war that goes on too long.
The SASHA NARADNYO books have recently been published in audiobook format by Tantor Audio. Paul Heitsch was well-cast as Sasha and he gives a wonderful performance that’s 11 hours long. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next in the sequel, Come the Revolution, which I’ll also read in audio format.
This sounds like a good read! I think I’ll order it.