Before I start with the review, here is a great trailer for The Ghosts of Mercury:
and now on with the review:
Mercury, my second favourite location of the Space 1889 solar system (after the asteroid belt/remains of Vulcan, in case you wondered). I was really looking forward to reading this one. The title alone made me itch with anticipation. I was expecting something along the lines of “The Mercury Men” (see this post for clarifications) or maybe some spectral remains of a really ancient civilisation. Well, I was wrong there, would have been a rather lucky guess anyway.
Before I get to the into the story itself I have to commend Mark Michalowski, his “token foreigners” (French scientists) are not token. They are not some one-dimensional caricatures like the unfortunately named Otto Kurt in Vandals of Venus. They are real people. Also, his use of French is realistic, in the right place and grammatically correct (yes, this is a pet-peeve of mine. Or, to quote George Carlin and be more precise: I do not have pet-peeves, I have major fucking psychotic hatreds). One of them is using “the others” as caricatures to make “our guys” shine in comparison, another one is using a foreign language incorrectly while pretending to be knowledgable about it.
So, Mark has two bonus points right from the start.
Another thing (and this is a general point and does not influence the rating of The Ghosts of Mercury): After reading three instalments of the first series of Space 1889 & Beyond I cannot help but notice a certain character discontinuity. Maybe it is only my impression, but especially Nathanial is somewhat different in each new novel. I do not mean to say his character develops in a way I do not like. It is more like he is slightly out of phase with hisself. But as I said, this could just be my impression.
On with the story: Strange things are afoot on Mercury and the usual suspects set out to investigate. What they first discover had me going wild with speculation and I could not put the novel down until they discovered the source of the ghosts. When they discovered the source I was delighted. Mark offered a not totally new but still unusual solution to what the ghosts actually are and put in some good philosophy as well.
I just noticed I cannot say which other novels I was reminded of without spoiling anything.
Anyway, I was even more gripped by the story and eager to find out, how the story would go on and how the protagonists would react to the challenge they faced. The next event, the “Ghost Invasion”, added another level to the mystery and cast doubt on the original statements of the ghosts‘ source. I still could not put the novel down. Up to this point, The Ghosts of Mercury would have gotten the complete reinforced squadron.
Alas, there came a point when I literally thought: “Oh no, please don’t…”
Well, the story does… After all this magnificent, exciting built-up, the philosophical implications and the great possibilities for further development, it devolves.
I am not sure if Mark ran out of ideas, had certain guidelines how the story should develop or what other reasons he had, the final part of The Ghosts of Mercury has nothing of the quality of what it was before. The story ends in cliches one would expect from 1950’s sci-fi. Again, I refrain from putting spoilers in, but I found the end highly disappointing, especially since, very much like Vandals of Venus, Ghosts of Mercury becomes so predictable after the “Oh no, please don’t…” moment.
The Ghosts of Mercury starts intriguing and creates a fascinating plot with a lot of potential but then fails to exploit the opportunities it creates. Instead, it gets stuck in old tropes and cliches. I really love the greater part of it, but the end and how the conflict (of interest) between the humans and the ghosts is resolved is just terrible.
Still, the good parts outweigh the bad. Six out of ten Zeppelins.