Hell Divers

4.6 Overall Score
Plot: 4/10
Characters: 3/10
Writing: 7/10

Easy to digest.

Wooden, unoriginal, unimaginative.

Hell Divers
(W) Nicholas Sansbury Smith
Blackstone Publishing

Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s Hell Divers is a regrettable and formulaic piece of genre fiction that was written without much thought. The incompetent characters fail to draw sympathy the same way those chuckleheads who fished for Jaws off a pier with a roast on a chain failed to get sympathy.

Earth was devastated in the last global war two hundred and fifty years ago. Since then, the remnants of humanity have been floating far above the blasted surface in repurposed military airships. The Hell Divers are elite teams who paradrop to the surface, scavenge for parts and supplies, then return to the airships via balloons that deploy out of their armor.

There are only two airships left; Ares, and the Hive, on which live the two thousand or so remaining humans. Captain Maria Ash is in charge of the Hive. Xavier Rodriguez is her star Hell Diver, with the two-fisted pulp hero nickname of X.

After this shopworn post-war wasteland premise, things take a sharp turn for the dumb and preposterous. The reader learns that 80% of Hell Diver recruits die in training. Wouldn’t that suggest that they should revise their training program, and stop wasting so many valuable personnel? You’ve only got about 2,000 humans left. Hell Diver life expectancy is fifteen jumps, which translates to two or three years. Wouldn’t that suggest that they should revise their strategy and tactics, to reduce casualties and increase yields? The book begins with X’s 96th jump. But he’s strangely bad at keeping his team alive and accomplishing his mission goals. He can’t even kill mutant monsters with his assault rifle, much less keep his bullets from falling out of his pockets.

Captain Ash is visibly dying of throat cancer – cancer is a scourge onboard the nuclear-powered, rattletrap Hive. But no one thinks about relieving her of command, including her. X has an obvious substance abuse problem, but it doesn’t seem to bother anyone that he is still leading the critical Hell Diver missions.

These chalk outlines of characters speak in short, wooden planks of sentences that do nothing to make them more lifelike. “Stay close.” “Hold up.” “We gotta get off this road, we’re too exposed here.”

The plot is driven by the need for replacement parts. If the Hive doesn’t get the critical parts, it crashes and everybody dies. Then the plot ramps up by putting the Ares in the exact same situation. But getting replacement parts is made more difficult by the sudden appearance of an entire species of big mutant monsters called Sirens that no one has ever noticed before.

Over all of this hangs Captain Ash’s driving wish to find a spot on the surface of the poisoned Earth where humans could live again. Which raises the question – if you have the technology and information to locate centuries-old nuclear fuel cell warehouses with remaining stock, how can you not find the last meadow on poor old Earth? You’ve been flying around over what was once a very well-mapped planet for two hundred and fifty years. Don’t you think if there was a habitable spot, you would have seen it by now?

Nonexistent characterization, wooden dialog, and an unoriginal concept combine to make Hell Divers a painful read. Not recommended.




Brian Downes
Author: Brian Downes View all posts by
Brian Downes is a writer who lives in Orlando, Florida. His novel, The Berlin Fraternity, about a man who hunts vampires for the Third Reich, is available on the Kindle and through Amazon.com. He enjoys pen and paper roleplaying games and geek culture. He clearly remembers waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to hit theaters, and vindicate his opinion that of course Vader was not Luke's father. You can't trust Vader's word!

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