Rich Larson’s debut Ymir is a blistering, gritty dark science fiction debut. In Ymir, Larson takes some cyberpunk tropes and redeploys them in a mining colony on a remote planet built on the remains of ancient alien technology.
Yorick has been brought back by his employers to the mining colony on Ymir, a place he fled from 20 years before. His job is to hunt a grendel, the powerful and deadly robotic monsters left behind by a long gone alien civilisation that also created a powerful interstellar transport system. Yorick had vowed never to come back to Ymir due to his involvement in the Company takeover of the planet and a violent falling out with his brother. And he quickly finds out that the Company wants him there for more reasons than just his grendel hunting skills.
Yorick is a damaged individual, prone to needing drugs to both function and forget, seeking pain as a form of absolution for his many real and perceived sins. But he is also very good at what he does – a problem solver and an effective and dangerous opponent. And in all these ways, he is the perfect guide to the icy, inhospitable, under-the-boot world and community of Ymir.
While the tale does provide some allusions to Beowulf, they are at best tangential. This story owes much more to the science fiction stylings of a range of different predecessors from William Gibson to Alastair Reynolds to Richard Morgan. But with all of that, Larson has a style all of his own. Some examples just from one early chapter:
The bar’s decor is more of the same: polyp walls in deep reds and pale purples, derelict mining equipment, sheaves of metal and cable hanging from the ceiling. One end of the place is dominated by a vaguely religious holomural, some angel or avatar wearing a gasmask…
The pair… turn and look. Both of them are dark-skinned, androgynous, taller and bulkier than the typical Ymir geneprint. One has thick locs done up with a static clip in a slowly twisting, writhing tower. The other has a shaved skull and an eye implant – fresh, judging by the vibrant bruising.
The pitch and tone only become more intense as the plot unfolds. So that Larson delivers a compulsive noir descent into a dangerous, hardscrabble world on the coattails of an engagingly flawed protagonist.