While the “Hell Divers” series is not a philosophical space opera, it is a promising start to 2021.
X is a grizzled veteran Hell Diver. Hell Divers are people tasked with diving onto a radioactive surface in order to scavenge materials that can’t be made in the massive airships that carry the last of humanity. We follow him and other characters, such as Travis, Tin, and Captain Ash as they try to weather the latest crisis that might doom humanity.
Most readers probably have flashbacks to other works in the genre – humanity confined to floating catastrophic airships rift with social inequality and strife have been seen before with the Hungry Cities series and Snowpiercer. Its influences are shown even more during X’s dive that we open up with, as he discovers a new mutant species on the surface of a dead world: The Sirens. Eyeless, toothy, and ever-hungry it seems to have flown and crawled right out of Fallout (for you younger readers) or, for your older readers, B Monsters from the Cold War.
While the setting is a well-trod path, it is executed well. Sansbury keeps the pace fast, never letting the character scenes go on too long before the action strikes. And I do intend that phrasing because the ship (Named the Hive) is hit with one catastrophe after another, such much that it should’ve been named Murphy. This is for the better, so nerds like us don’t spend too much time picking at the world-building, such as where is the space for manufacturing on the Hive, or why are the Sirens so suicidally determined to eat Hell Divers? Which is per the course in this sort of story.
But the character scenes, while occasionally a bit stiff, are still enjoyable. While they aren’t the deepest, they are a pleasure to spend time with, mostly because of their commitment to the ship. Sansbury takes time to sketch out characters who would just be consigned to antagonist roles – Captain Ash, the pragmatic commander whose iron exterior hides the heavy weight of her responsibility to the Hive. Travis is the young rebel who strikes out at the structure, keeping the hive afloat to achieve a better life for the lower deckers. Despite their opposing aims, all are united in their pursuit to keep the last remnant of humanity alive on the ship. Which is a nice to see in this genre, where human characters are usually only motivated by base survival or just wanton cruelty in a world with no laws. While nobody is a saint, at least there is no cannibalism.
However, Hell Divers shines in its action scenes. A favorite is the diving scenes, where the eponymous Hell Divers are launched from old bomb chutes, flying in their armed flight suits to protect them from the constant storms that surrounded them. These are vivid scenes, combining danger with beauty for those of us who would love to fly. It also gives this series a well-defined identity to stand out from the rest.
True to its pulp inspiration, the ending leaves off on a cliffhanger, not only for X’s continued survival but humanities. While the ship survived the most recent crisis, the decaying technology and the straining social structure is ready to break down at any moment. The Hive can’t stay in the skies forever, and when that day comes, then what?
This is a series to check out for those who like some pulp action and high stakes. With seven books, there should be plenty of mutant blasting and storm diving for you to enjoy.
Review by Elizabeth Davis