17 January 2011

Running Black, book review

Running Black is the debut near future sci-fi novel written by US (Massachusetts to be a bit more specific) author Patrick Todoroff.

This 241 pages long novel is set in the not so distant future of 2059 and pretty much have the finger on the pulse on where we are IRL at the moment. Huge bio tech corporations dabbling with nano technology, robots and human cloning – something that really is just getting started, has in the novel been fully fledged out and is part of everyday reality. From the bits and pieces of information thrown around we also learn that there is a federation of arab nations, a New EU and that terrorists had blown up Paris with nukes a couple of years prior to the events in the book. The huge bio tech corporations field their own armies of security personnel and have gated communities where their staff and wealthy people live. Spain, Madrid more precisely, where most of the book takes places is s sprawling slum of decaying buildings where daily life is a dirty struggle.

The main characters of the book are mercenaries specialized on breaking and entering into these corporations and extract valuable information on research and technology. This particular outfit from “Eshu International” are seasoned burglars and hackers, made up of 3 humans – one of them modified with a cerebral network making hacking into security systems a cakewalk and 3 combat clones, last of their kind – left over from a war in Africa where these particular clones were fielded en masse until the UN through resolutions forbade the use and deployment of clones during warfare.

The book starts off with a botched heist into one research lab, wasting no time on describing the textures of a metal door in a Tolkien’esque fashion. The writing is what I would call “straight to the point” but without being as stripped of clever plot points or dialogue as “The Road”.  The heist being performed by a group of mercenary corporate thieves goes to hell and they all end up dead but not before the last member manages to transmit the information they had extracted. We soon learn that the information stolen and transmitted will be used to stage a second and much more crucial heist on a British corporation which has been reported having made a breakthrough in nano technology.

The Eshu International outfit is kept in the dark about the semi-successful previous operation, being the best of the best are simply to be used against this high security target to extract the final piece of the puzzle for a Japanese corporation in exchange for the highest payroll to date. They sneak into this compound and get hold of the nano technology – though the container is not really what they’ve come to expect. All hell breaks loose and they barely make it out alive with the device they were sent to retrieve. They are then faced with the dilemma, deliver the device straight away or head for safety, lay low and treat their wounded with a plan to deliver ASAP. They choose the second option which takes them to the slums of Madrid.

I was pleasantly surprised that something that looked like a predictable story got more complicated and allowed for more alternate endings in my mind as I kept reading. The British, being pissed off start to chase Eshu International with both Spanish law enforcement and their own heavily armed Security detail, the paranoid and renegade employer grows impatient and unleashes people of his own to retrieve the stolen device.  The author gives you just enough information on characters and environments but the main focus is on story and pushing the action along, and this novel is almost a nonstop thrill ride from the first to the last page, with protagonists and villains that are interesting to follow and as I said the story gets more unpredictable up to the very end as you keep reading, with a rather nice payoff at the end which could mark this the first book of a series.

If this does become a series of novels then we have the main characters established and what they are capable of, I would then like to know more about the world where this story is set as there are some very interesting social and political implications hinted at during dialogue and observations.
For instance hints about the notorious WW2 Japanese Unit731 still being in operation, as part of one of the corporations. The name “Running Black” is from one of the cutting edge stealth suit models used by the mercenaries in the book.

All in all a great debut novel!

It can be bought as eBook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and other e-reader sites. And as paperback from such places as Amazon.  If you like science fiction like Minority Report or Blade Runner, this is right up your alley.



  1. Thanks Alex. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Side note:

    You're the only person so far who's picked up on the Unit 731 reference.

  3. Could be because I'm a huge WW2 nut, and also while tinkering with the Japanese expansion for SoTR, Unit731 floated around quite a bit.

    But it instantly stood out to me as I read the novel and I think that particular piece of information would make for a great storyline in any future book :-)


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