Book Review : Kieran Shea - Off Rock (2017)
The name Kieran Shea might ring a bell. He made his name with the Koko Marstellar novels: a lean, action-packed science fiction series launched in 2014 via Titan Books. Shea's been around for a long-time, though. He was nominated for short story awards and featured in reputable magazines before his first Koko novel hit the market. Point is: he's a great storyteller and his work can be appreciated independently of the genre they belong to, although his hardboiled mystery background always shows a little bit. This is exactly what made his latest satirical space opera Off Rock so freakin' cool. This baby drops NEXT WEEK on April 18, so pre-order your copy here.
Off Rock is set in the year of our Lord 2778 and features Jimmy Vik, a free-spirited corporate grunt working for a space-mining company. Life became miserable for him after breaking up with his girlfriend and supervisor Leelawati Pendergast and he's been considering killing himself. Jimmy alters his plans after discovering a significant amount of gold on an unlikely moon named Kardashev 7-A and he decides to go for broke: he'll either smuggle the gold off rock and become a rich man or die trying. It's a terrible idea, though. Smuggling anything in space requires way too many people and slipping through corporate procedures is insanely complicated. But Jimmy Vik stopped giving a fuck a long time ago.
So, I was saying: Off Rock is a satirical novel. It would work without the science fiction setting, but it doesn't just happen to be one. It's one of many subtle deliberate choices made by Kieran Shea that hint at the real subject of the novel : corporate America. If Off Rock is set in deep space, it's to highlight the fact that corporate structures and technological progress are going in different directions. Hundreds of years into the future, space exploration has overtaken Earth's economy, mining and traveling technology don't have anything to do with what we know now and yet people are stuck in the same illusory hierarchical structures, fostering the same bullshit selfish ambitions and thinking of their professional status as yardstick of success. Off Rock is not REALLY a science fiction novel, but it couldn't have been set anywhere but in a distant future.
Now, Off Rock is undoubtedly funny but it never forces humor down your throat. It's a satirical action-packed science fiction novel and not an action-packed science fiction comedy, which is an important distinction. Kieran Shea doesn't chase jokes in Off Rock, humor emerges from absurd situations that echo our contemporary condition, like Jimmy an Leela having a lover's quarrel on the corporate airwaves while Jimmy is busy mining Kardashev 7-A and making plans of stealing the gold. It's very Coen-ian if you will. It reminded me several movies from the iconic brothers, but especially their underrated masterpiece Burn After Reading. I wouldn't feel uncomfortable at all comparing Off Rock to Burn After Reading meets Total Recall. It's that kind of crazy, bouncing-off-the-walls cinematic fun.
I had few qualms with Off Rock, but maybe the only hitch in the road worth talking about is some of the genre elements getting in the way. Once Jimmy decides to rip off his company, he starts looking for an inside man, meets Jock and from there, the novel almost capsizes into cliché. Heist/inside job novels are a dime a dozen and for a moment (maybe forty pages or so) Off Rock comes off like every single one of them. Fortunately enough, it seems like Kieran Shea was extremely aware of that problem and starts throwing monkey wrench after monkey wrench into Jimmy Vik's plans about halfway into the novel. I'm not even sure how one would avoid the issue writing a space smuggling novel, but it did slightly undermine my reading.
Off Rock is such a COOL novel. I'm a bit of a picky eater when it comes to science fiction *, but Kieran Shea's new book passes the test with flying colors. It's a smart book, yet it's not pretentious or complicated. You can read it for your own cerebral pleasure or take it to the beach on a hot summer day. You don't even need to be a hardcore science fiction fan to enjoy it. Off Rock is coming out NEXT TUESDAY and at the risk of repeating myself, you may want to pre-order this bad boy and secure your own copy. This is going to be a popular one. I wouldn't be surprised to see a movie trailer surface on internet before 2019. It's that kind of book.
* I was raised on my dad's Star Trek obsession, so you could say I have high standards.