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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Red Dust


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To purchase Red Dust

Title: Red Dust
Author: Yoss
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 169 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Red Dust - US
in: Premio UPC 2003 - US
Red Dust - UK
Red Dust - Canada
in: Premio UPC 2003 - España
  • Spanish title: Polvo rojo
  • First published in Premio UPC 2003
  • Translated by David Frye

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Our Assessment:

B+ : genial, homage-y story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 28/4/2020 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Though the mile a minute plot briefly stalls for some late-night philosophizing between the heroes, it regains its footing and barrels into a cinematic shoot-out of a finale, complete with bullets, blasters, and samurai swords. This is good fun." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Red Dust is set in the twenty-second century, much of it taking place on an enormous space station circling the Saturn-moon Titan -- "the only station in the Solar System where humans can get a license to rub elbows with aliens and make intergalactic deals". It is narrated by a police officer stationed on board -- not a human, but a pozzie, a positronic robot. From that nod to Isaac Asimov to the Hammett-echoing title to the keyname the narrator has chosen for itself -- Raymond ("as in Chandler", it emphasizes -- its favorite writer) -- to the name of the space station (the William S. Burroughs), it's clear from early on that Red Dust is playful homage to the twentieth-century masters, especially of science fiction and hard-boiled detective novels. (The Burroughs influence, on the other hand, is a bit more buried.)
       The book is dedicated to Chandler, and narrator Raymond even begins its story trying to imitate the old master. Raymond isn't quite a Chandlerian hero, but it affects the style and attitude quite well at times, having learned the lessons of the master from his work -- including that, often enough, it's pure chance that leads to the vital breakthrough, or that so easily overlooked small detail.
       The space station features the three types of aliens that trade with humans -- whose natural resources they have use for, but whom they otherwise don't trust much. Most of the technological advances they brought with them have been kept safely out of human hands: they just don't trust the species: "They see humanity as an 'unpredictable species.' Which is a polite way of saying humans are a stupid and very dangerous race who have to be kept in check".
       The story basically revolves around an escaped prisoner, a: "fugitive Cetian perp" named Makrow 34, with quite a history of criminal activity. He's brought to the William S. Burroughs by bounty hunters who need to replenish their energy reserves before heading onwards -- but he makes good his escape there.
       Unfortunately, it also turns out he is no ordinary criminal. Raymond and its fellow pozzies had been warned that Makrow 34 was a Psi -- capable of mind-tricks, though of course these don't affect the entirely electronic pozzies --, which in and if itself wasn't that out of the ordinary, and was something they could be prepared for -- but that wasn't all there was to him. Makrow 34's specific talents were of a very unusual nature:

So the fugitive was one of those statistically near-impossible Psi oddballs who could alter, through some as-yet undiscovered means, the shape of the Gaussian bell curve that describes the statistical probability of any number of events.
       If events normally can be expected to fall on a Bell-curve distribution, Makrow 34 is able to completely upend that: around him one always has to expect the unexpected. (It's in this that the Burroughs-homage manifests itself -- not in the writing itself, fortunately, but the concept behind Burroughs' cut-up fiction technique, of text reässembled outside its 'normal' order.)
       Makrow 34 and his alien confederates escape and flee; Raymond and a prisoner aboard the William S. Burroughs -- "the only other known Gaussical" -- head out to hunt them down. Makrow 34 manages both the expected and unexpected, and pretty soon the tables are turned, with Raymond and its sidekick the hunted ones -- out in the vast expanse of space, in some very nicely rendered scenes -- before it comes down to a final showdown back on the Burroughs.
       As Raymond notes: "I'm telling the story, so it doesn't take a genius to figure out that it all turned out okay, right ?" but it's also a fairly entertaining and even reasonably exciting journey getting there; the pitched one-on-one Gaussian combat, in particular, is a fun spin on the usual mano-a-mano showdown.
       Red Dust is bit light and thin -- more anthology-novella (as it was, in fact, originally published as) than sturdy stand-alone -- but it's good and quite clever entertainment, as Yoss proves adept at comfortably weaving in various homages while also making the story his (or Raymond's) own. It has an easy, almost effortless feel to it, but what Yoss does here requires quite some talent; he's a very good writer, with a good feel for just how far to go with his material, be it homage, world-creation, or action. He's particularly good on character -- Raymond, above all, but also some of the secondary figures, including the one whom (in yet another act of homage) Raymond comes to honor with the choice of its "secondname". (When all this begins, Raymond only has a single keyname; you only earn the honor of choosing a secondname for yourself: "When one of us shows himself to be particularly skillful, judicial, and trustworthy"; just how big of a deal this is is made clear right at the outset, as the novel in fact opens with Raymond explaining that: "This is the story of how I got my secondname".)
       The plot -- of escaped convict, hunt, and confrontations -- is arguably familiar and quite basic -- but then it often is in the hardboiled novels Raymond admires, and Yoss has enough unusual twists (as are also often found in its favorite reading) to amuse. While never too ambitious, the details, the characters, and the homages -- overt as well as more subtle -- are all nicely done, making for a quick good read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 August 2020

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Red Dust: Reviews: Other books by Yoss under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Cuban author Yoss (actually: José Miguel Sánchez Gómez) was born in 1969.

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© 2020 the complete review

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