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Those Who Walk in Darkness
John Ridley
Warner Aspect, 320 pages

Those Who Walk in Darkness
John Ridley
John Ridley is a multi-faceted talent in film, television, and publishing. The author of three highly regarded novels and a former producer on NBC's Third Watch, he wrote and produced the film Undercover Brother, conceived the story for Three Kings, and wrote and directed Cold Around the Heart. His critically acclaimed novel Stray Dogs was made into the movie U-Turn, directed by Oliver Stone. In addition, he is also a regular commentator for National Public Radio.

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SF Site Review: Those Who Walk in Darkness

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A review by Nathan Brazil

'Once the door had closed, Yar: "Well, ask me she's got what it takes.
Wants to jam Daddy's knife into a freak's chest? She's on her way to BAMF."'
Superheroes in literary form is a subject that I find tremendously appealing, when it's done well. I've previously reviewed Wild Cards novels, Devil's Cape, Secret World, Soon I will Be Invincible, and Path of the Bold, among others in this niche genre. Super-powered characters struggling to cope in the real world is such a rich vein, with so many possibilities, I can't help but be enthusiastic. Having said that, being predisposed toward a genre has never stopped me from telling it like it is, and if a book is a stinker, that's what I'll report. Those Who Walk in Darkness is not a stinker, it's much worse than that. From beginning to end, it proved to be one of the worst written, most badly conceived novels I've ever wasted my time reading.

The premise is a tough, black, female cop attached to MTacs, a special unit which hunts down super-powered individuals. Not just those gone rogue, but anyone who happens to have metanormal abilities. Because in this world, the US government has outlawed super-people, regardless of their actions or intentions. An Executive Order has been enacted following the wholesale destruction of San Francisco, by a super-villain called Bludlust, who was not stopped in the nick of time. After San Francisco, all mutants were declared to be "freaks" and given the option to either leave the country, or be hunted down and imprisoned. Those who remained anyway become fugitives, and resistance, if cornered by MTacs, carries the risk of execution on the spot. MTacs all believe in shooting first and asking questions later, and talk as if they were brought up by someone from The Shield. The lead character is Soledad O'Roark, a cop with a science background, who has invented a modified pistol, capable of shooting a variety of special rounds tailored to incapacitate or kill those possessing particular super-powers. For example, one bullet delivers a contact poison, which affects those who are otherwise invulnerable, another literally fights fire with fire, by shooting phosphorous rounds at pyrokinetics. On her very first MTacs mission, Soledad's team are all but beaten in a clumsy fight with the poor man's version of the Human Torch. In desperation she uses her special weapon, which she just happens to have brought along. Her action helps to save the day, but the big problem is that the gun is a non-regulation piece. In the aftermath, Soledad is given the nickname Bullet, and spends large sections of the book caught up in the political and legal ramifications. A totally unbelievable romance is tossed in to the mix, then we're off again, after a psychotic mutant whose main gripe is that Soledad shot down and killed his literally angelic wife; a metanormal who was, at the time, saving innocents. The shooting occurs without any provocation, while Soledad is suspended from MTac. But this time nobody bats an eyelid, because she used a regulation firearm!

The scenario comes across like Professor X's worst nightmare, as written by a former member of the Bush Regime spin machine. All super-powered people are legally classed as something less than human, and forced to live hidden lives. The author could have run with this dark view, and introduced glimmers of light, the vital elements of contrast which are necessary in any good novel. Instead, he presents a cast who are almost all unlikeable, murderous bigots, in a story which has about as much depth as an episode of Scooby Doo. I found it impossible to imagine any US government enacting legislation which forces "good guy" superheroes abroad, rather than requiring them to serve as a national resource. It would be akin to reducing nuclear weapons by giving them to other nations. John Ridley writes as if Wild Cards, Frank Miller, Warren Ellis and Alan Moore never existed. There is no subtlety, no sense that his characters might, at some point, change their minds due to new information. Indeed, Soledad's nonsensical hatred of metanormals is so extreme and entrenched, that when someone she is close to is revealed to have Vision-like powers -- which are immediately used to save a woman from a burning car -- she tries to kill him. The dialogue is, at times, shockingly poor, and almost always heavily biased toward attitudes and behaviour which, in any civilised society, would be seen as thuggish and stupid. Also an irritant was the repeated use of the acronym BAMF. MTacs are supposed to be rough tough urban warriors, yet are unable to actually say the words represented by the letters BAMF. Those Who Walk in Darkness is a huge disappointment, which insults the intelligence of comic book fans and SF readers alike.

Copyright © 2009 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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