[books for gamers] All the Gold of Ophir

All the Gold of Ophir, written by David Drury, is half pulp detective, part hard-sci fiction story.  Private investigator Michael Flynn has been hired to look into the “accidental” death of a young man on a Jupiter space station.  The victim worked for the mega-corporation that not only owns the station and employs three-quarters of its thousands of inhabitants, but also has its own lethally-armed security force.  Flynn is assisted by corporate attorney Wendy Chadwick and opposed by Silvanus Drake, so improbably named that J.K. Rowling would even blanche.

Drury is a professor of engineering and uses his knowledge to tell the story, one laden with stereotypical characters: the Irish hard-drinking PI, the incompetent and belligerent head of the police force, even the psycho ex-girlfriend (whom I kept calling “Ira” after Spade’s ex in The Maltese Falcon).  The mystery was interesting and the action moved along well (although I had a pretty good idea of what happened fairly early on).

My only complaint, because I can let hackneyed, two-dimensional characters slide in a story like this one, is that in science fiction you have to give the reader certain boundaries of genre.  Faster-than-light travel?  Aliens?  Artificial intelligence?  You have to let the reader know what exists and what doesn’t, especially when you’re doing a mystery.  It isn’t fair to say, allow teleportation to exist in the last chapter if it is instrumental to the plot.  And Drury succumbs to this–after establishing the boundaries throughout the book he breaks one (as the underwhelming “shocker”) to tie up one of the loose ends.  Or in other words, you can get most of the mystery on your own, but you’ll never get the last ten percent because Drury breaks his own rules.  It is a frustrating end note to an otherwise fun weekend read.

From a gaming perspective, All the Gold of Ophir reminds RPG fans of how depending the gaming industry is on pulp-ish stories.  The Jupiter space station would make a fine sci-fi environs, big enough to introduce new elements but contained enough to keep players from running far off the beaten track (my biggest gripe with sci-fi RPG’s).

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