Off Rock, by Kieran Shea
Words By Johnny Caputo
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Henry David Thoreau wrote that somewhere back in the mid-19th century. Unfortunately for Jimmy Vik, the protagonist of Kieran Shea’s novel Off Rock (released April 2017 from Titan Books), not much has changed by the year 2778. Sure, gigantic corporations have expanded from earth to mine the far corners of the solar system. But for the average working stiff like Jimmy, things are pretty much the same as they’ve always been. Wake up. Punch a clock. Work for 12 mind-numbing and potentially lethal hours in an interstellar mine shaft before hitting the sack so you can wake up the next morning and do it all over again. Jimmy may have to don a spacesuit to do his work, but he struggles with the same questions that people have struggled with for centuries. Am I selling my soul for work I don’t care about? Am I wasting my life? How the hell can I ever get out?
Luckily, Jimmy gets a chance to escape when he stumbles across a large vein of previously undiscovered gold, one that the company has no idea exists. All he has to do is figure out how to get the gold shipped back to earth without anyone in the company noticing. If he’s caught, he’ll be imprisoned for life and will have to undergo medical experimentation. But Jimmy’s been beaten down into desperation long enough to know that opportunities like this, opportunities to get what you really want, don’t come around very often. In that moment, as the gold shimmers temptingly before Jimmy’s eyes, he thinks:
“The universe was just one gigantic brutal fact. It didn’t care about your troubles, about whether your missing schnauzer came home or whether you lived or died, and it certainly didn’t give a damn about what you stole.”
While Off Rock lives up to its billing as a page-turning, escapist heist tale set in outer space (who wouldn’t pick up that book?), this novel becomes much more than a fun romp due to the depth of humanity Shea instills in his characters. In the lifeless recesses of space, Jimmy grows plants in terrariums and builds model ships, demonstrating his desire to cultivate something more for himself than the desperate situation he is stuck in. With details like these, Shea digs deeper into Jimmy’s existential crises than most authors of “escapist” literature are willing to go.
Off Rock utilizes its platform as a self-described escapist novel to comment on the very human need to break free from an unsatisfactory life. Shea constantly asks its characters: What do you want out of life? What do you really want? And what desperate acts would you commit to make the life you’ve always dreamed for yourself?
Fortunately for us, Jimmy Vik’s answer to that last question is: “Whatever it takes.”