‘A two hundred page science poem’ – Dark Star by Oliver Langmead

dsolShall I ease you into this one or not? No? You’re ready? Yes? It’s just that, if I just come out and say that Dark Star is a two hundred page science fiction poem you might-

No.

Wait.

Come back.

Damn.

And that’s the problem we have. So many of you are conditioned to hate science fiction and/or poetry that a combination of the two will have you running for the safety of your Ian McEwan books, sniffing those sensible paragraphs like a startled mother fox sniffing her den, eyes full of panic, straining for the scent of safety.

I am fighting against your prejudices here. I am, essentially, science-fiction-poem Gandhi.

So, let’s start off by saying that Dark Star is published by Unsung Stories, who know what they’re doing. Last year they gave us Aliya Whiteley’s The Beauty, and that was, as those of you who have read it already know, all sorts of wonderful. Secondly, let’s establish that Dark Star is a poem, yes, but it is also a novel and is probably best viewed as one. Thirdly, let’s have a think about what we mean by science fiction.

Sorry, yes, we must.

We are still at the boring stage of literary evolution where people need to pretend that Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguro and Cormac McCarthy or whoever don’t write science fiction. We still have to put up with bores like Richard Todd claiming “serious literary fiction tends to exclude the best-selling genre-fiction categories such as crime or science fiction but may make use of some of the conventions of those genres.” We haven’t got to a point where books are just books. If a book has a spaceship or a planet or something in it we still have to queue up at Richard Todd’s house to see if it is genre fiction or merely using the conventions of genre fiction. Which means waiting for Richard Todd to read it, because the seemingly arbitrary difference is largely based on whether Richard Todd thinks a book is good or not.

I’m not doing that. I’m not queueing at Richard Todd’s house. I’m not even going to hyphenate the phrase ‘genre fiction’ except when directly quoting him, because doing so is silly. Dark Star is science fiction. So is Atwood. So is Ishiguro and McCarthy. Science fiction and fantasy get everywhere. Homer, Pliny, Ovid, Dante, Boccaccio, Shakespeare, Dickens, Henry James. Sorry. Grow up. Books are just books.

Can I say Dark Star is good now? Can I? Can I get on with this? Can I say Dark Star is very good indeed? Can I? Can I?

Dark Star is very good indeed. The metre of the poem is so natural that it never distracts the reader from the story. Instead, it has the eerie ability to filter the story in unexpected ways, like reading in 3D. The narrative is ostensibly pretty straight forward (policeman Virgil Yorke investigates a crime) but the world, a city of perpetual night under a star that burns darkness, is inspired. Light takes on new meanings. The presence of light denotes the presence of wealth, illuminating the rich and hiding the poor, but it also denotes the presence of story. All novels are, by necessity, limited to showing the reader a finite number of scenes, of only being able to shine a torch into the dark of existence so many times, but Dark Star pushes this to its logical extreme. Characters stand out from the dark of the non-described. Locations are lit up like fairgrounds. A murder victim’s veins pulse with unnatural light.

Dark Star uses this world to play with the fact that novels are an amalgam of the known and the unknown. It even (at the risk of channelling Donald Rumsfeld) has known unknowns (Virgil’s bulb free flat, a walk from a broken car across an unknowable terrain). But by telling the reader that what is not described cannot be seen, Langmead somehow conjures a world more vivid than a photograph.

That’s how good this book is. It is me coming up with theories of the novel good. I don’t do that shit for just anyone.

Any Cop?: Dark Star is a box of fireworks. If you can get over your fears of it, it will give you an evening of dazzling delight. I loved it so much that I am using a slightly irresponsible metaphor to describe it. I feel bad about that now. Never go back to a lit firework kids. I’m not joking now. Playing with fireworks is not cool.

Do not play with fireworks.

Seriously.

Go to an organised display if you can.

Great book though.

Never pick up a dropped sparkler.

Read Dark Star.

Benjamin Judge


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