Fletcher Brass, the very embodiment of the ruthless corporate entrepreneur, has established the moon colony Purgatory, a mecca for war criminals, murderers, sex fiends and aventurous tourists. You won’t find better drugs, cheaper plastic surgery or bloodier combat sports anywhere in the universe.
When Damien Justus, a straight cop who has taken voluntary exile from earth to protect his family from his enemies, arrives on the moon, he is immediately confronted with a string of murders that he suspects are tied up with Fletcher Brass’s interests. One line of the story deals with this; meanwhile, on the other side of the moon, an android known as Leonardo Black is rampaging towards Purgatory, killing everyone who stands in his way as he travels towards what he calls “El Dorado”, where he will be King. Androids serve many useful purposes on the moon, but something has gone wrong with Leonardo Black’s programming :
He suddenly felt a clarity of purpose. He felt an identity. He was not just as good as the three men [his programmers] – he was better than they were. He was, in point of fact, the most important being in the universe. He was capable of awesome achievements. He was decisive when others were weak and frivolous. He was a leader, where others were born to follow. And yet here he was, being tinkered with by fools and mediocrities, when he should be presiding over multitudes. (262)
This isn’t so far from the attitude of many a business and political leader, which is O’Neill’s essential point. Here are some sayings from the Brass Code:
It’s good to have a rival. It’s even better to crack his skull.
Lie. Lie. Lie. But remember.
The love of money is the root of all progress.
You cannot serve god and Mammon.
Losers make hurdles. Winners hurdle them.
Geniuses are their own saviours.
Depression is for the indolent.
What’s the point of walking in another man’s shoes? Unless his shoes are better than yours?
If you give it enough feathers you can make anything fly.
Sci-fi enthusiasts will enjoy all the high-tech moon stuff; crime noir enthusiasts will enjoy the mayhem created by Leonardo Black on his murderous rampage. And of course it’s funny, with the trademark O’Neill black humour. No one is a bigger fan of O’Neill than Gert, but I was disappointed in this one. There’s none of the fine careless rapture, the imaginative freedom of his earlier books. When the two storylines finally come together, it feels worked-at, didactic, over-planned. O’Neill did a far more savage, telling takedown of corruption in high places in the marvellous The Unscratchables; in fact Damien Justus and the repulsive police chief Jabba Buchanan are reprises of characters in The Unscratchables.
If you haven’t read O’Neill and you like sci-fi noir, you’ll like this a lot. If you admire him as much as Gert does, you’ll heave a slightly disappointed sigh. Whichever it is, go and read Scheherezade, The Lamplighter, The Empire Of Eternity and The Unscratchables, and his new book coming soon, Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek.