by Ana Childe
The Damsel by David Dixon is the first in The Black Sun series and an immersive character-centric space novella focusing on the two-man privateering team behind the Black Sun 490 freighter and their misadventures in The Fringe. The story is told from Snake’s—the spaceship’s gunner—point of view and the action starts in the thick of things with a hijacking, like any sci-fi worth its salt.
Not featuring the usual title for a space adventure, Dixon’s novella takes the overdone damsel trope and gives it a nice spin to land on an unexpected outcome. Who is the damsel? Is it Carla, the hot mercenary girl and ominous portrayal of the inciting incident, Snake, the gunner who lives life by the seat of his engine coolant-soaked pants, or Snake’s Boss—captain and only friend—always unlucky in decision making and love? The only way to find out is to keep reading.
A not-so-thinly veiled critique of the all-for-profit society we live in, this sci-fi novella hints at a complex universe with strong Firefly vibes. Among very technical (for this particular reader) descriptions of pre-flight checks, dodgy take-offs, spaceship repairs, the focus is on the messy mix of contractual and personal relationships in a profit-fuelled world where there’s always a bigger predator round the intergalactic corner.
The nonchalance with which Snake proceeds to take off into space when at gun point, even though he is a complete novice at flying, is chillingly comedic and reflects the desperation and acceptance of a jaded person comfortable living in an eat-or-get-eaten world. Not that he has a choice. After all, he portrays every living being’s desire to stay alive, morals and ethics aside.
Though punctuated by constant bickering, jabs, and cussing, Snake’s interactions with Boss and vice-versa, reflect an unlikely yet very close co-dependent friendship. The amount of bad luck this couple attracts is only proportional to the number of bad decisions Boss makes, yet Snake sticks with him. And this is where Dixon shines, at drawing human relationships, so flawed and real this reader cannot help but feel for the characters no matter how morally grey-almost-black they are. All the technical jargon cannot put this reader off from wanting to learn what happens next. The banter and camaraderie between Snake and his boss are strangely heart-warming and the much needed comic relief in a universe full of greed, self-interest, and violence.
Another reason to grab and read this space adventure at the speed of light is to find out why Snake is ‘the luckiest motherfucker in the world’ notwithstanding the radiation, knife in the leg, coolant poisoning, and liver-damaging amounts of booze.
The way this reader sees it, this novella’s ending can be interpreted in two ways. One is to be pleasantly surprised by how Dixon focuses on the redeemable facet of human nature (says the unredeemable optimist that is this reader). The other is a more cynical approach—the ‘happy ending’ that is always possible if you have the financial backing and right connections. Much like in Firefly and the real world.
Review first appeared in TCM 8/2020