Title: Hard Luck Hank: Screw the Galaxy
Author: Steven Campbell
Published: April 2014
Hank is a thug. In his view the galaxy has given him a gift: a mutation that allows him to withstand great deals of physical trauma. He puts his abilities to the best use possible and that isn’t by being a scientist.
Besides, the space station Belvaille doesn’t need scientists. It is not, generally, a thinking person’s locale. It is the remotest habitation in the entire Colmarian Confederation. There is literally no reason to be there.
Unless you are a criminal.
Because of its location, Belvaille is populated with nothing but crooks. Every day is a series of power struggles between the crime bosses.
Hank is an intrinsic part of this community as a premier gang negotiator. Not because he is eloquent or brilliant or an expert combatant, but because if you shoot him in the face he keeps on talking.
Hank believes he has it pretty good until a beautiful and mysterious blue woman enters his life with a compelling job offer.
Hank and Belvaille, so long out of public scrutiny, suddenly find themselves at the epicenter of the galaxy with a lot of very unwelcome attention.
Characterization and badassery
I imagine Hank as a cross between X-Men’s Beast (Aka Henry “Hank” McCoy) and The Fantastic Four’s “Thing” (Benjamin “Ben” Grimm). Except he’s a lot more human looking as those two. Sure, he’s big, heavy, and slow, but he’s got skin and hair like any other Colmarian.
Mutants are a usual thing in this universe, so there’s plenty of smashing and bashing, and it’s fun getting the story from Hank’s perspective. While he’s no genius, he’s lived his whole life on the outside of polite society and knows a hustle when he sees one. What makes him interesting is that he’s not sadistic and he doesn’t have a bad temper. He’s characterized as a thug, but he’s more of a negotiator who can smash someone’s head when they try to kill him. Otherwise, he’s a live and let live kind of guy, even if someone shoots him in the face for a paycheck.
That’s another fun thing about Hank’s perspective. He’s not afraid of death, or getting hurt. That makes his reactions different, as well as his approach to a given situation.
Plot and pacing
There’s a lot of opportunity for this story to drag, but it doesn’t. It’s a unique mix of genres—mutant/superhero (of the X-Men type), a little sci-fi, and a lot of noir detective story. Hank’s a gangster, albeit a neutral one (unlawful neutral, if we’re talking alignment in RPG terms), living in a gangster world. It’s different, and it works.
The story starts out with a laugh, and hooks the reader into Hank right away. From there the plot takes off, and it all just keeps moving. I was fully engaged right up until the end.
Prose and editing
Here’s my one nit to pick—the editing. There are some copyediting issues. Some typos, some odd formatting, and some word misuses. But the funny thing is, it kind of works with Hank because he isn’t a guy with a huge vocabulary, or excellent spelling skills. And in spite of that nice feeling of immersion, it’s still an intelligently written book, which makes it all come off effortlessly.
And the prose works. Campbell has a way of phrasing things that keeps the reader engaged. There’s underlying humor there, even when there aren’t any jokes.
Definitely funny. It’s not a laugh a minute, but I rarely do more than smirk at the funny parts of a book and this one had me outright smiling. Once, I even snorted.
I liked how Hard Luck Hank was different from other stories I’ve read. The narrative comes out without tiresome worldbuilding or long explainy bits. It’s well-wrought, overall. It digs in and tells a story that is pure entertainment and super fun.
Though I guess I do have one other little nit to pick. I don’t expect any scientific accuracy in a book like this, but I found the station setup confusing. It’s clearly an artificial space station in a dark part of space. Yet there are many outdoor scenes. Streets. An atmosphere, apparently. I imagined Hank walking out of his apartment into daylight. Which obviously makes no sense.
But whatever! I’m not mad about the nits. It’s a book that’s refreshing fun, and I had a good time reading it. I look forward to reading more in this series.