Set predominantly on Nera, a nanotechnology-powered planet comprising socially stratified super-cities called Metros, Justin Hale’s Runners is a cyber-punk thriller chronicling the exploits of a group of outlaws led by the charismatic captain of the spaceship The Misnomer.
Mr. Zan and his motley crew are gunrunners trying to make ends meet. They trained as elite assassins but went rogue after becoming disheartened. Now attempting to function independently, they are struggling to avoid entanglement in an escalating conflict between the corporations that run Nera and ideological freedom-fighter Dietrich Boateng.
It becomes apparent Zan and Boateng are at loggerheads regarding a shared tragic history. Finding themselves in increasingly straitened circumstances, however, The Misnomer’s crew must join forces with Boateng to complete a mission. In exchange, Boateng will help them combat a crew scheduled to replace them.
Hale has crafted an insightful, action-packed adventure brimming with creativity, fusing elements of the seminal big-screen sci-fi Blade Runner with Neuromancer-era William Gibson, to impressive effect.
Mining a rich seam of well-established dystopian concerns, Runners touches on the social inequalities inherent in a technologically enhanced, hierarchical society. High-level Metro citizens are swamped in wealth, while lower-level residents remain an exploited underclass legally obliged to endure endless digital propaganda and advertising under the eye of corporate law enforcement.
In less confident hands, the socio-political commentary underpinning Runners might have overwhelmed the narrative. Hale, however, ensures that it compliments and enriches the story without disrupting its pace.
Runners benefits from strong characterization. Bantering dialogue and inspired world-building are equally commendable. If there’s a weakness, it’s that the story ends abruptly, leaving several frustratingly unresolved plot threads. This is a minor quibble, however, since a sequel is indicated at the conclusion.
Overall, Runners is an impressive series debut that science fiction and cyber-punk fans will enjoy immensely, especially admirers of Gibson and Philip K. Dick.