Our SPSFC semi-finalist roster

Having let you all know the three books Team Space Leftovers selected to move on to the next round of SPSFC2, the next step is for the semifinalists to actually get their moment in the sun. Or, in this case, the blazing readerly glares of Edpool, Starr, Pax and Grumpylo.

In accordance with the shuffling process, Team Space Leftovers will be reading the semifinalists from Team Red Stars and Team Tar Vol On, which means the books I will be reviewing next, in the order I’m gonna be doing them, are:

Heritage, Tales of the Phoenix Titan Book 1, by S.M. Warlow. This is the chonkiest of our semifinalist bois (albeit not quite as massive as some we have tackled), and I have a nice warm fuzzy space epic feeling about this one.

Next is – oh hey, The View from Infinity Beach by R.P.L. Johnson. Look at that, I’m a step ahead of the game, already having read and reviewed this one for SPSFC1. Here’s my review right here. Next!

Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days by Drew Melbourne, looks like a bit of fun and I do love a balls-to-the-wall massive jump into the future for my sci-fi. Looking forward to this one too!

Exin Ex Machina, Asterio Noir Book 1 by G.S. Jennsen, already wins the Most Cool Words In Title award for this round (it’s not a physical award, it’s more of a the-win-itself-is-its-own-reward type of thing, which is great for me because it’s cheap). Let’s see if the book itself fulfils the promise of all those cool title words.

Intelligence Block, a “GameLit inspired Space Opera” by Kit Falbo is up next. This one looks like it has corvids in it, so I am already envisioning a Hitchcockian take on Planet of the Apes where crows and / or ravens gain heightened intelligence and colonise Mars just so they can poop on things. No, I haven’t read the book synopsis. I like to go in blind and then be utterly disappointed, thank you.

The Audacity, The Audacity Series Book 1 by Carmen Loup, is our last semifinalist. This one is touted as a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the next generation, and I guess we’ll see about that because frankly we already have one of them and it’s Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage, but sure, I’ll give it a try. I do love the title and the cover and the Ford Prefect for the next generation, who that guy doing the finger-gun clearly is. I’m on board.

Our scores are due on April 24th, making this a little less frantic than the last round but still not un-frantic. There’s a lot going on in the next couple of months and some of these books are pretty hefty. So I’ll probably launch straight in.

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SPSFCSFAFSC

Yes, it’s that time of the year: the Self Published Science Fiction Competition Semi Finalist Announcement From Saint Chucky. I’m using one of my older and more obscure internet handles to maximise the comedic effect of the initialism.

Shut up! It checks out!

Anyway, it’s been another fun and exhausting read-o-rama and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading all the reviews (I know you have). I can’t wait to see what the next stage of the contest looks like.

Without further ado, here are our three semi-finalists.

Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage, by your old pal Marcus Alexander Hart. A solid favourite of Team Space Leftovers, this hilarious space opera has heart, brains, and a variety of other organs. We’re not sure where it got them from. We’re looking into it.

Reap3r, by Eliot Peper. A grimy and bleak look at the too-near future, this one came highly recommended and solidly hyped, and it delivered. A fun read and a worthy contender to enter the next round.

Lightblade, by Zamil Akhtar. This colourful (you’ll see what I did there when you read it) and gloriously surreal action adventure is a mastercraft of the progression fantasy (well, in this case progression sci-fi) subgenre. Let’s see how it measures up against the competition!

Hearty congratulations to our semifinalists, and good luck with the next round! The other teams are so much meaner than we are.

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Magic Carpet Ride: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Last but not least in our first-round reads for Team Space Leftovers in the SPSFC2, I give you Magic Carpet Ride, by Rich Simmons. This doesn’t seem to currently be available for purchase, and is marketed as a young adult and a children’s time travel story, so let’s see how it all pans out, shall we? Anyway, this is it for round one! Next up, watch this space for our semifinalists, and the other teams’ semifinalists, and the end of Year 2!

So, where were we?

Magic Carpet Ride charmed me from the moment I saw its cover. A harried-looking dude runs through a possible-primeval forest, fuzzy Russian hat on head and boombox in hand. It is a freezeframe-and-record-scratch “yup that’s me” in book cover form, and it did its job amazingly.

We’re introduced to our heroes Logan (our first-person main protagonist), Preston (initially kind of a douche, but also a friend), Emma (girl[1]), and Michael (a shambolic  and free-spirited type who I initially assumed was an inventor and may or may not have created the boombox time machine – this was not the case but he was definitely introduced as a character who would end up with a boombox time machine). This, I suppose, sets this story up as a Young Adult adventure but I don’t know, there’s a whole lot of grey area in these genres. Michael is humorously late for class, repeatedly, until one day he doesn’t turn up to school at all and it’s suddenly not so funny.

Then he shows up with a boombox time machine that plays Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf before it takes off.

No.

From here, it is a time travel comedy / adventure in the vein of Bill & Ted and Back to the Future, and these are both appropriately lampshaded. For that matter, as much as I love those movies, this book (or a movie adaptation thereof) would fit in quite nicely on my DVD shelf alongside them.

We have the obligatory stopover in the 1950s, we have Ancient Egypt and Julius Caesar’s Rome, we have Woodstock and – basically everything a teenager would think of to do with a time machine. It has a great mechanic, a fun way to avoid (or perhaps “make amusingly overcomplicated” is a better term) paradoxes, and it generally plays fast and loose with the time travel concept. It’s not hard time travel sci fi, but then again hard time travel sci fi is kind of stupid because the concept is so utterly fantastical that any attempt to take it seriously is essentially predestined to fall on its backside while Mister Sandman tinkles in the background.

No.

Anyway, I really enjoyed it. There were some genuinely chilling moments (like Old Preston, and some of the later conflict scenes), either intentional or otherwise, and although of course time travel stories are going to reach that event horizon where you just keep reading or watching even though you have no idea what’s really going on but are just following the zany action, and this one is no exception, Magic Carpet Ride held onto its shit pretty well.

There was a persistent bug in the text that had me zooming in and out all the way through the book so I wasn’t reading teeny tiny words or great big old folks’ home words, but I assume this was something to do with the ebook I received and may be why it is not currently available on Amazon. Also, thank you for explaining how Centuries actually work, for the dummies not paying attention. Man, this takes me back to 1999 and how hard it was for people to figure out that 2000 was still the last year of the 20th Century.

The question of time travellers going back home or not is an interesting one, and covered in Doctor Who a lot. The fact that time travellers would age faster than one-day-at-a-timers is also addressed, although it’s not a critical part of the narrative. It occurred to me as I was reading, of course, that without the “sheep” doing “society” that Michael was so scornful of, there wouldn’t be anything much worth time travelling around to check out. But that’s probably something a sheep would bleat.

I was about halfway through the book when I realised the three main protagonists were surnamed Bradbury, Lloyd and Wells. Sheesh, okay, well played. Let’s move on to the meters.

Sex-o-meter

Michael and Lea have an awkward thing, and Logan and Emma have an equally awkward basically-nothing. Girls, as previously footnoted[2], are played as a bit of a trophy-afterthought in this book and don’t really have characters of their own, but that’s really my only complaint. Lea is the closest we get and she’s … there, at best, honestly. There’s no sex, just horny teen boy protagonists being mild-manneredly horny. The married with grandkids plotline was a bit cringey  (implied sex though, so that warrants a doink on the meter), but the date setup was cute. All in all Magic Carpet Ride gets a … huh. A doink. Out of a possible whole lot of doinks, and actually also sex I guess.

Gore-o-meter

There was a surprising amount! Roman gladiators and historically questionable animal fights, and a very respectable possibly-paradox-corrected body-count by the time we get to the end. I’ll give it two-and-a-half quivering flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Oh, there was plenty of WTF here. I mean, everything going on in the future was weird. We don’t find out where, when or who the Marker is, as it is left as a reveal for a later time although it is impressively teased. And no, we never find out why a time machine was made to resemble a 1980s boombox. The book gets a police telephone box out of a possible phone booth on the WTF-o-meter.

My Final Verdict

This book was great fun, and if you can find it somewhere, I heartily recommend you read it. Four stars!

 


[1] Female characters were kind of under-written here … we’ll get to that. Unless you’re reading the footnotes last, in which case I’ve gotta say you’ve kind of fucked up footnotes.

[2] Unless you’re reading the footnotes last, in which case I’ve gotta say you’ve kind of fucked up footnotes. And if it just read like I was repeating myself, I’ve got bad news for you.

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Journey to the Past: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Today I’m here to sit down backwards on my chair Captain America style and have a “rap” with you kids about Journey to the Past, by Esteban Corio.

Okay, where to start … alright, so first off the bat I give massive cred and hats-off to Corio, who I believe is Argentinian and either wrote this book in Spanish and then translated it, or wrote it in English as a second language. There’s some fantastic idioms and some other little slips that I will get to later, in the spirit of discovery, but I make full allowance and am not docking marks for the book needing a good hard editing (well, not just for that). This is a common thing with indie books. There was some confusion between he / his, she / her and they / their, which I take to be a result of Spanish pronoun grammar, that made it difficult to tell sometimes who was being talked about in a given paragraph. It was challenging, but you know what else is challenging? Writing in your non-native tongue.

I loved the intro, the hopeful future of the late 21st Century. Pretty stuff, I unironically love a good info dump, and the new union of human and alien races, although very under-utilised here, was great. I was mildly amused to find in an early chapter of the book that the perfect future world still had health insurance and not free universal healthcare, but I guess nobody’s perfect.

So, with the advent of faster-than-light travel humanity also learned how to travel in time. Doing so, into the past, could not affect the “Mother Timeline” because every change just made new variants of the universe and the universe of origin remained unaffected, but they were still reasonably careful not to spin off too many alternative realities – or travel into the future at all. Which, okay, would that not be a better way to make profit in secret if you’re going to break the rules anyway? But fine. That’s not really covered.

Research, however, into the past is permitted under very controlled circumstances. The not too recent past, and they still have to go in essentially invisible despite the apparent inviolability of the Mother Timeline, and enter and leave within a few hours carrying nothing … but that’s how it works. Companies, like the one our set of protagonists work for, sort of shoot people pot-luck into the past for a few hours at a time to see what they can see. It’s an interesting premise.


I’m not sure why the text in the ebook sometimes went to one word per line, is it a missing drawing or something?

Enter Edgar (director of operations) and Mark (deputy director), two absolute units who get in approximately one million dollars’ worth of trouble (one million and fifty-six thousand dollars, to be exact) with a mob boss named Biao. Now, keep in mind that keeping a time portal open costs their company one million dollars a minute in energy fees. And this company is set to make staggering profits. This gambling debt is pocket change, even taking into account that there might be regulations preventing them from misappropriating too much of the company’s funds directly (stupid hyper-regulated future!).

Still, they offer Biao their houses, but Biao doesn’t dabble in real estate. Which, why? Clearly everyone involved here is an idiot. But okay. They owe this nasty piece of work a modest amount of money, and they desperately scramble to find a way to use their company’s time travel mechanic to make it for him. It’s actually rather clever, although maybe not as clever as just, you know, embezzling the money. We’ll get to the idea, hold on.

Occasionally a bit of Spanish punctuation slipped through. I found this interesting and cool, not distracting.

There were also some directly (Google?) translated stuff like this gem, which I found downright fascinating.

Meanwhile, the legit side of the company is doing time jumps. Small teams including a doctor and a fixer, go into the past and check things out and then come back with data. The company has two fixers, from what I could see – Randy and Sprague, the former a bit of a loose cannon and the latter our main protagonist, a private investigator down on his luck who is happy to be picked up by this company that will pay him super, super well (remember the directors of the company are one million dollars in the red to a mob guy).

There are also some other characters in the story, and we are treated to some absolutely amazing descriptions of them.

Ooh, those flirtatious gays with their … *checks notes* … chocolates and their … *checks notes again* … ornate owls.

And don’t even get me started on those stolid orientals with their … *checks notes* … uh …

Anyway, moving on. They go back in time to see Pumapunku being built, and accidentally totally find out it was being built as a resort by some Ancient Aliens. Yup, that happened. Now, on the other hand they also go to see Columbus making landfall on America, and one of the travellers attempts to assassinate him. Not because it will have any impact on the Mother Timeline, but just to create some spin-off universes in which the Native American people have a chance to exist free of mass-rape and genocide. Anyway that guy turns out to be a terrorist and a bad guy so never mind.

Maybe it’s innocent. Look, I loved the idea of aliens coming to Earth and having a hand in ancient civilisations when I was younger (and, you know, dumb and ignorant). I still write about it myself – it’s just that you also need to be aware of the huge risk that in saying “and aliens came and helped build this amazing thing” what you’re actually kinda saying is “brown savages couldn’t possibly have had the skill and tenacity to do this themselves.” So you need to be careful.

I boldly read on, batting aside red flags as I went. Then Randy, our not-quite-protagonist fixer, decided to stay in 1994, where there is no environmentalist preaching, no constant electronic pamphlets about the “social conscience required of citizens”, no policies of equitable distribution of wealth, and also you’re allowed to smoke.

And, it’s just, okay. I’m not going to punish a book and its author because we differ ideologically. That’s not what this is about. This could have been a fascinating study of these issues, and could have ended with a masterpiece of sci-fi iconoclastry like Demolition Man. I’m just saying, if there’s a guy who doesn’t like anything about the progressive future he lives in, maybe put a little mark in his folder about it before you make him a fixer on time travel missions back to the early days of proto-political correctness and rampant pollutant consumerism? You know, just a little – a little asterisk?

Anyway, all that stuff I just mentioned, aside from Randy, that’s all somehow a side-point to the main plot. The Randy thing brings us back around to the actual body of the story, which is all about using time travel to fiddle with World Cup soccer matches in order to have one million dollars of gambling debts forgiven.

And like I said, it was actually a pretty damn cool idea!

So, like I mentioned, Edgar and Mark send Randy to 1994. This is against the rules for near-present proximity, but whatever. They’re off the legal map from here on out. Randy’s mission is to tamper with the first game of the World Cup, then hang around and record how the contest played out as a result. Then he comes back with the recordings, and the high fliers back in the 2050s watch the new variant of the World Cup play out, and bet on it. It’s pretty interesting, and although some interference has occurred, the Mother Timeline is inviolable so all that’s really happened is that Randy is a month or so older than he was when he went into the portal, and a new version of the universe has spun into existence where Bolivia beat Germany in the first match of the 1994 World Cup (and also Randy did just an absolute fucking ton of other things that would alter that universe … I’m just saying, this is kind of important for later).

There are a few problems with this plan, of course. I don’t know how easy it would have been for someone to get accommodation in Chicago during the first time the soccer World Cup came to the US, with three days’ notice. I think it would have been very very difficult indeed. Furthermore, they send him back there with some jewellery to pawn, but they don’t have the tech to just provide him with a card that will tweak the bank machines and give him money? Yeesh. Even furthermore, they expect Randy to be able to record the games as they’re broadcast? Using ’90s technology? People in the ’90s couldn’t even do that!

Randy didn’t need to figure out the VHS recorder though, because he just bought a DVD recorder instead. Half a decade before they were commercially available.

So. Randy enjoys his little World Cup trip so much, he decides to win the lottery using Powerball numbers he brought with him for the purpose, and cut and run with his winnings. This is where Edgar and Mark start to realise their whole plan was a fucking dog’s breakfast from start to finish, and send Sprague, our hero, to fix things. And this is where it all finally and ultimately falls to pieces.

Sprague, to cut a long story slightly less-long, puts himself in cryo-suspension in 1994 and returns to the 2050s the long way ’round, with a clever plan of his own. Somehow, this is portrayed as his return to the Mother Timeline, and its preservation. But that is not possible.

He is already in an alternate universe. He’s in cryo-suspension and headed into the 2050s of an Earth where Bolivia beat Germany in the first match of the 1994 World Cup – and also, like I said was going to be important later, Randy took half the Powerball winnings that season and bought himself a private beach and had jacuzzi threesomes with ’90s babes. Randy is not getting back to the Mother Timeline any way but through the portals sent by his corporate bosses. There’s no way. I don’t make the rules. The author makes the rules. And this is against the rules.

You can make a case for self-correction and return to the Mother Timeline if you like. The champion of the World Cup that year ultimately did not change. And if Columbus was killed, another genocidal rapist would have arrived shortly thereafter.

Maybe that’s the lesson here.

We end in a flurry of Futurama cryo-facility shenanigans and Back to the Future plotting that might have worked better if the narrator had framed time travel as a fucking free-for-all in the first place, and holy shit this review turned out to be really long, let’s move on to the meters. Quick.

Sex-o-meter

Biao’s psychotic idiot of a son “crossed” with two women, which I’m pretty sure means he beat and raped them. Sprague and Eva watch vintage movies and have sex, their relationship is generally wholesome and sweet. And there’s some sleazy ’90s jacuzzi action. Not a hugely sex-filled romp. A limp, meek, non-smoking environmentalist little 2050s boner out of a possible huge, throbbing, oiled-bicep-like boner of the 1990s.

Gore-o-meter

There’s something of a spree-ending here and some satisfying fights. I also like to think that, after Biao is ruined and after he gets over his grief, he goes to find that friend of Sprague’s who very foolishly allowed his company’s details to be put on the “fake video” Sprague used to ruin Biao, and just systematically slaughters his entire family and all his friends. But that only happened in my mind, not in the book. One gobbet out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

So much WTF. So, so much. Why wasn’t this book about the aliens who were building a resort at Pumapunku? That would have been amazing (if, I cannot stress this enough, handled correctly). I’ll restrict myself to that single important question, and give this book a Crystal Skull out of a possible Jesus Was Actually Bigfoot on the WTF-o-meter.

My Final Verdict

Oof. One star.

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The Solid-State Shuffle: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next up on the SPSFC first-stage checking slate, or SPSFCFSCS, is The Solid-State Shuffle, Sunken City Capers Book 1, by Jeffrey A. Ballard.

The opening of this book had an aggressively unapproachable mix of first and second person perspective going on in it, but I’m glad to say it didn’t hang around. The story itself was in first-person present tense and told from the point of view of Isa, a 5’9″ woman (not Amazonian!). Also along for the ride are Puo (a big ol’ Samoan dude) and Winn (Isa’s  cataclysmically annoying lover, but – ah, excellent, he’s Over Six Feet Tall, yay). Together they form a little salvage crew, one of the new breed of criminals that evolved to take advantage of the rising sea level and / or coastal shifts[1] that have put a bunch of cities underwater. Isa’s the boss, Puo’s the Guy in the Chair, and Winn is also there.

A fun heist on a submerged Seattle bank gives us the opportunity to see the crew in action. They’re pretty good at what they do, except for the banter part of it. Their banter needs work. Oh, some of it is amusing but for the most part I have to say it was a bit lukewarm. The crew’s mission is to make a bit of money and thus pay off the “Citizen Maker”, essentially the dude who installed career chips for them. This “one last job to pay off the loan shark[2]” trope is of course familiar. What’s different in this case is a) it’s not one last job as far as Isa’s concerned, this is her life; and b) the motivation is neither resolved nor conveniently forgotten about by the end, which is usually the case with the dude the protagonist owes money to at the start of the story. It just sort of … hangs around as an unfinished thread. Not sure how I feel about that.

Anyway, the heist goes wrong – or rather it goes fine, but the solid-state drive[3] they steal turns out to not be holding digital money, but currency of another sort entirely. And it belongs to a powerful local crime Boss. Who then contracts Isa and her crew to get to the bottom of who took it. And things begin to get steadily more dangerous and complicated from then on.

The characters are nicely done. Puo is lovely as the loyal best friend with a heart of gold and nobody deserves him. His fun stories about make-believe animal species and events were a highlight of the book and the exception to what I said earlier about the banter needing polish. Isa is increasingly revealed to be profoundly broken and traumatised, and kind of an arsehole as a result but her story is a tragic and sympathetic one. Winn is equal parts relatable and a giant fucking pain in the arse who needs to get with the program. Hayes and his Squeeze are pitiable. The villains are appropriately cutout. All in all this was a fun mob heist adventure with some neat twists and turns, cool world-building and a good satisfying ending.

Sex-o-meter

We start our tale with Puo rating the sex Isa and Winn were having before the start of the book. Then Isa and Winn do an after-heist sex. Winn is a bit of a little bitch about everything if you must know the truth, but he fucks. Let’s see, The Solid-State Shuffle looks to be settling at a Sexual Processing Unit out of a possible Buxom Access Mammary on the sex-o-meter. I don’t even know what that means because I know nothing about sex or computers.

Gore-o-meter

A solid amount of gore in this one, as befits an organised crime action type narrative. Good shootouts and a nice spree for closure. Three quivering flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

There really wasn’t much WTF here, it was all pretty explicable. Decently hard and tame sci-fi, in fact I’d say it was barely sci-fi at all – and not in a bad way. It was just a Mission Impossible or an Ocean’s Eleven story set in the future[4], with a bit of adjusted setting and tech. One thing that did have me WTFing was the moment when, just after lecturing Colvin about not telling her things she needs to know, Isa doesn’t tell him a fucking ton of stuff. I get that if she’d been less cagey, the story might have resolved sooner and less dramatically, and the secretiveness is justified given Isa’s past and trust issues, but it still smacked of “so the story can happen“. Still, that was it. This is getting a Tom Cruise hanging horizontally from some straps to do a cool secret agent move, out of a possible same thing except he is underwater so the straps are just in the way, and then a loan shark eats him because it is a literal shark that got into the predatory loans business after Seattle was submerged and it swam into a bank and the rest is history, also they’re called apex predatory loans now.

My Final Verdict

This was alright! Look, I could go on at length about there being a certain painful something about a male author writing a female protagonist in first person narrative, but at least Isa didn’t breast boobily. I didn’t really need to know which parts of her were bare and which were dressed in ivy lace halter tops, but at least she didn’t breast boobily. In fact one of the only references to her “girls” as far as I could see was actually a pretty funny scene (and the only reference to her breasts was a really dark one) so I’m going to give it my Mediocre White ManTM Seal of Approval. It’s a literal seal that-

Three and a half stars. Let’s bump it to four for Amazon and Goodreads. We’re done here.

 


[1] Ballard isn’t exactly forthcoming about what happened a hundred-odd years ago to put a bunch of human infrastructure underwater. Is that to avoid committing to the climate collapse issue and making his stupider readers unhappy, or just because the how and why isn’t important and he didn’t want his characters to info-dump about it when they probably wouldn’t think or talk about it that much in the course of their workaday skullduggery? Let’s assume it was the latter.

[2] And can we just pause for a moment and shake our heads in sad condemnation at the fact that Ballard somehow failed to make loan sharks a part of his underwater crime ecosystem? I should dock him a star for that.

[3] Aha! This is the “solid-state” part of the book title. Now where’s the “shuffle”? Is it going to be a riff on the soft-shoe shuffle dance? A dance of crime? Or is it some kind of heist or grift lingo? The other book titles in this series are similar plays on existing terms, but they all seem to be different unless they all fit some theme I’m unaware of. Ah well.

[4] Hang on. Hang on. Ballard also missed the opportunity to make an “Ocean’s Eleven” joke in this heist story that takes place in an ocean filled with submerged valuables? Ooh, so, what, are you too good to make that joke? Huh? Well lah-dee-dah, Mister Highbrow. Say goodbye to your five star rating, fucko[5].

[5] I’m kidding, I’m kidding. It was going to be a four anyway. But now I’ve definitely done too many footnotes.

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Reap3r: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Hey there. Enough chit-chat! Let’s take a look at Reap3r, by Eliot Peper.

In an uncomfortably familiar and pandemic-y world of the present-to-very-near-future, a hitman targets a scientist. The hit is handled using a MobilePay-esque app for dark web killers for hire, called Reap3r. What an excellent premise, and I hope Peper put a patent on the idea before Elon Musk someone else does.

Anyhow, from this intriguing start we jump forward three years, although this still set the story a bit closer in the immediate future than most of the sci-fi I’m used to. I’m still trying to decide if I like that or not. It didn’t feed my endless gluttony for bright shiny things (BSTs) or surreal alien magic (WTFs), but it did fill my burgeoning doom-belly with a good look at an all-too-plausible next step in the collapse of the golden age I have in my Nineties Teen head. Three years later, and the gathering-together of an interesting assortment of minds at the behest of a strange and seemingly benevolent patron.

It didn’t help that I had just watched Glass Onion so when he took them all on a cruise to the Galápagos Islands this was basically the picture in my head. Yes, even Devon the podcaster.

Right from the start, it was resoundingly obvious that this story wasn’t going to have the utopian happy ending a wealthy philanthropist who really believed the hype might have hoped for. We weren’t going to get to see herds of resurrected woolly mammoths gambolling majestically across the tundra, stamping down the permafrost and restoring the ecological balance (although frankly if I had seen that, I’m not sure how I would have reacted). This wasn’t going to turn out well for anyone. The book is named for an assassination app.

No, this was always heading for a (well crafted) shit-show and my only real hope as of about the halfway point was that Paul, the intel pervert using the Q supercomputer as a blackmail folder and porn stash, would be killing spree’d before the book was over.

To step from the story to questions of plot and mechanics for a bit, I guess I will say that while I enjoyed reading this and it all hung together, there was quite a long build-up and the characters spent a lot of time just sort of moving into place and manoeuvering around each other, doing what seemed like fairly random stuff. A reader can reasonably expect to not know exactly what is going on and what the over-arching plot of the story actually is for – well, for longer than the usual prologue or first act switcheroo, at least. If you’re not into that sort of uncertainty, you might feel like there’s no point. I’d encourage you to stick with it, though.

The first characters and plot arc to fall into place for me was, as mentioned, the thread of Luki and Paul and Q. I got them, at least insofar as I wanted Paul to be spree’d right in the face at Peper’s earliest convenience. For a while that was the only thread I was invested in, and I followed it like a water-cave-diver pulling on a safety line through the rest of the points of view. They were interesting vignettes, but I didn’t really get them until they got with the program and fed into the Luki / Q storyline. And like I say, that was quite late in the game.

I really felt for the characters, which I was not expecting in a tech drama of this gritty-present-day-reality subgenre. Even the villains (except for Paul; fuck – and I cannot express this in strong enough terms – Paul). The line between philanthropy and self-interest is generally the bottom line, and the endless ravenous demands of capitalism was … well, not to be trite, but in a sense that felt like the real antagonist here. And that tracks, frankly. If anything is going to prevent the building blocks we currently have in place from assembling into a utopian future and instead cram them into the shape of whatever fevered rich-cunt dream some sweaty rich cunt has, it’s that oldest and greatest of make-believe things humans made real: money.

In fact, you might even say that the real villain of this story was the money we made along the way. I wouldn’t say that, though. Ever. I’m better than that.
In my persistent and ongoing mental framing of Reap3r as a Knives Out mystery, by the way, I (the reader) am Benoit Blanc and no I will not apologise for that. And if you end up reading the rest of this review in a hokey Southern Gentleman voice, well I don’t think I will apologise for that either.

A couple of things didn’t quite sit right with me as the end of the story approached:

  • Look, I love Terry Pratchett as much as the next guy, but the references and comparisons went a little bit too far – and occurred a little too repeatedly. While it did serve to tie this book to the near-present day (and let’s be real here for a second, if Pratchett’s legacy survived to be the only thing the giant-headed metallic-robe-wearing posthumans of the 89th Century remembered about the late 20th and early 21st, I would consider it an indisputable win), it folded into the “if this were a movie pitch it’d never get greenlit!” convention – which was also used maybe once or twice too often.
  • Devon’s endgame, in leveraging her podcast into a paywalled publication, didn’t make intuitive sense to me. There wasn’t a deep dive into the near-future mechanics of monetisation and social media in the story, but it seemed to me that Rabbit Hole had just hit the viewer / subscriber / virality jackpot and that really would have been all she needed. But then, cashing in and selling out is definitely on-brand for an influencer, and even though Devon is meant to be a good one it shows how intrusive the capitalist system is. So, this is really kind of a plus but it still didn’t ring true for the character or the mechanics of her medium.
  • I can’t say this enough, but Paul needed spree’ing. I get that he will probably become a recurring threat in other stories and that’s great and all, but the closure on his thread was very unsatisfactory.

Alright, let’s move on.

Sex-o-meter

No sex. Some implied, but … nah, nothing really. A Reap3r out of a possible Tinder, Grindr and (why not, what the heck) Right Stuff orgy for – well, Reap3r.

Gore-o-meter

Some violence, as required by the cutthroat business. All culminating in a glorious (if slightly suspension-of-disbelief-wrecking) assassin battle royale as [SPOILER REDACTED]. Good stuff, but still not enough to take us past two and a half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Again, not much. It wasn’t that sort of story. Your rich and bountiful WTF fields tend to occur in the distant future, or when alien civilisations appear, or in the liminal spaces a bit more figurative than the tech industry and the mogul who named his yacht after the concept. Still, this was a great character study and said a lot of fascinating and depressing things about human nature and progress. All of it entirely too understandable. The WTF-o-meter is giving this a Michael Crichton novel out of a possible … huh, it’s the Tinder, Grindr and Right Stuff orgy again.

My Final Verdict

Is it just me, or was that climactic scene very Murder, She Wrote? But I loved it, very satisfying. The author’s note at the end of the book bore out my confusion over the plotting and the different storylines – Reap3r is a lot of different pieces woven together, and it took considerable effort to tie them into a structure. I think it was effort mostly well spent, as the result definitely works. Paul needed to be spree’d though. What even happened to Paul? He was just like … nah? Boo. Three stars.

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The Secret of the Tzaritsa Moon: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next up we have The Secret of the Tzaritsa Moon A Nine Star Nebula Mystery Adventure, Book 1, by Charles Litka. And I have no earthly idea why the Amazon link keeps taking me to Spanish Amazon, and if it will do the same for you. Have fun if it does. Think of it like a little Spanish holiday. Unless you live in Spain, in which case it’s just … Wednesday I guess? Alright let’s get on with this.

I have to admit to pre-judging this one a little bit, and being put off by the title and cover before even starting. That’s definitely a me problem, though. I might not have picked up this book under different circumstances, but I’m very glad I did. I’d heard quite a lot of good things about this story, and those things were right. And I was wrong to pre-judge! The cover – which is very nice irrespective of my reaction to it – makes perfect sense in the context of the story, which we’ll get to. Obviously. This is a review. And the titular Tzaritsa Moon is the name of a spaceship, and the similarly titular secrets are an allusion to secrets that are hinted at in our opening aboard said ship.

So.

I was charmed by Rye Rylr and his “yup, that’s me” opening as a toaster repair man. Love a good sci-fi normie-job. How did he end up here? Well, for that we go to our opening, which was a fun enough space action sort of scene, if a bit cut-and-dried mechanics-and-espionage for my tastes. Still well told. Rylr stumbles upon a sabotage job and fixes it, inconveniencing some ne’er-do-wells who would have preferred the Tzaritsa Moon‘s secrets to blow up with the ship – aha, you see? I mentioned the secrets. We’re getting somewhere.

Rylr, something of a trained agent in a fascinatingly framed peacekeeping / intelligence force, escapes the goons (or possibly thugs, and one henchman, the Tall Man) of the “pirate princes” or the “Seven Syndicate” and goes to ground on a bucolic planet just outside the main “Unity” legal framework of interplanetary civilisation. Hence the cover that looks like something you’d find on a book of romance poetry. Anyway he settles in as a (among other things) toaster repair guy, making some friends in a little off-season tourist village, and waits for it to all blow over.

It does not all blow over.

The cosy little witness-protection plotline is blown wide open as the pretty agent with the nice smile who Rylr met on his escape from the Tzaritsa Moon (I’m not kidding, I began to feel a little bad for the author who really seemed to just want to write about a pretty girl smiling over and over … but not in a gross or creepy way, I hasten to add, I think it was genuinely sweet) turns up in his neck of the literal woods and he’s pulled right back into the heisty, organised-crimey intrigue of it all. The enjoyably rural hero-in-hiding narrative switches gears (as smoothly as though its teeth are finely-crafted D-steel) into a secret agent infiltration and action sequence.

It wasn’t until I read about the 11,000-year-old robots, the rebellion and the underground space railroad for kind-of-anti-slaves-if-you-think-about-it, though, that I found myself really fascinated by this story.

I enjoyed a lot of the clever background stuff at work in this one. I liked Rylr’s “spaceer” ignorance about how planets worked, the clever handling of a normalised 200 year lifespan, and some of the career and lifestyle choices it led to. The prevalence of mind wiping and mind probing is interesting and raises a lot of questions about the Unity and this civilisation in general, that I expect will be fleshed out in subsequent mysteries.

All in all this was a fun little tale of intrigue, espionage, crime syndicates and secret agents, with the obligatory sci-fi armoury / trove of lost tech. I think “lift” was maybe a bit overused as a multifaceted slang term, but on the other hand I wholeheartedly approve of “Neb” as a general curse / blasphemy. Yes sir, a very cute story!

Sex-o-meter

There wasn’t really any sex to be had here. All things considered it was a completely and endearingly innocent slow burn romance and sex wasn’t the point. That said, our main protagonist was clearly (and adorably) besotted and the slow burn romance will surely continue as the Nine Star Nebula Mystery Adventures do. A pirate prince out of a possible space Tortuga on the ol’ sex-o-meter for this one.

Gore-o-meter

Again, this was an entirely innocent outing. We were treated to some gunfights. The ammo is mostly set on stun. The greatest violence at play here is whatever happens to someone’s mind when they get wiped and probed and stuff, which – I’m not saying it’s not worrying, but it’s not explained in detail and it’s not gore, is it? Half a quivering flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

I was delighted at the little glimpses of a rich, wild ecosystem of WTF going on under the surface here. The robots, the mind probes, the world building in general, it was all really nice and I want to know more. Unity and the non-Unity worlds … the whole thing makes for an interesting dynamic and adds depth to a well-crafted and simple action adventure. It wasn’t fully psychedelic, but it was good solid sci-fi WTF and I give it a Witness out of a possible Planet of the Amish from Futurama.

My Final Verdict

What a fun story. I recommend it! Let’s go with three and a half stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale. But okay, fine, just because I loved the snarky robots so much, I will bump it to four stars.

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God’s Tear: Project TigerShark: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next up we have God’s Tear: Project TigerShark by Gabriel Pearson or possibly Aidan Pilkington-Burrows. Gabriel Pearson may be a pen name since there seem to be several romance-adjacent / adult / BDSM books under that author, whereas Pilkington-Burrows does sci-fi and fantasy, and there’s something of a mix-up between Goodreads and Amazon on the subject. My Space Leftovers teammate Pax reviewed God’s Tear too, and I find myself unable to say much more than he already did. The book was released in 2011 and was last reviewed on Amazon in 2013, and it’s always rough to see a book not getting eyeballs. All told, though, this looks like a combination of messy marketing effort and a confused approach to the whole production.

Oof, okay, where do I go with this one? It was challenging. I guess we just start at the start, which was actually great.

So. God’s Tear, in this book, is a deposit of ice on the moon and the site of a future mega-wealthy retreat / ultimate gated community where the oligarchs of the world seemed to intend to sit out the climate collapse and eat cake while the world burns. It’s part of the setup and (sort of) part of the pay-off for the story. Project TigerShark, on the other hand, is a secret development initiative where scientists are building super-soldiers. Not out of the criminally insane per se, but with way more physiological input from death row prisoners than any reasonable person would expect in the circumstances. You know, more than zero physiological input.

Robert Downing Jr is an amusingly unfortunate character name, by the way. Just getting that down before we get too deep into it.

We open on a strange cabal of nine influential (terrorist?) Illuminati-types gathering in a decidedly John Wickian summit where their mysterious leader appears to them and makes a speech. The intelligence and crime-fighting community is watching surreptitiously, and when the cabal get in a circle and annihilate themselves (and the hotel they’re meeting in), everyone goes “huh. Wonder what that was about.”

Following this tantalising prologue, we see a terrorist-style ransom call to an orchestrated plurality of world leaders. This vastly powerful and mysterious alien force (or is it alien? Is it the new global unified Terrorist organisation, or is it that cabal from the prologue?) basically demands that humans be nice, and share their resources with each other. If they don’t do as they’re told, there will be big smacks.

Of course, all the world leaders are terribly cross about this because they’re shitty fucking people. So there is a bit of a demonstration of the power “The Nemesis” has. Military bases are destroyed, and the world leaders are told to name a city (each?) to be destroyed. What I thought was going to happen at this point was some kind of undertaking, while maybe taking a look at some of the destroyed cities if that actually happened, to actually do what The Nemesis demanded. Some introspection on the nature of bowing to the demands of terrorists, balanced against the fact that what they were demanding was basically … good actually?

We didn’t seem to get that. What we got instead was one suggested military base set aside for destruction being turned down by The Nemesis, because there was something super important to the future of humanity happening there. What was happening there was Project TigerShark, as previously mentioned. A new strain of superhuman killing machine, nano-manufactured from the ground up but also weirdly using mind-wiped murderers and psychopaths to create Meta, or homo superior sentiens (echoes of the homo superior of Star Marque Rising). So that just seemed like the worst possible idea. I mean, in a good way. Terrible idea for scientists to even think about generally equals great idea for a sci-fi action story.

When it comes to telling a fun story, you definitely should.

So, while The Nemesis and its strange malleable cylinders of indefatigable darkness was threatening humanity with a good time, we go off on a Bourne-style exploration of these sexy, sexy male-and-female Meta teams and their mind-probin’, fast-movin’, definitely-going-to-remember-their-past-lives-as-murderers-and-go-rampagin’ ways. I’m not sure I really got the point.

There were quite a lot of word confusion typos: they new of her instead of they knew of herthat she was instead of than she was, and so on. They’re hard to find with a regular spell-check, and I understand that good editing can be hard to come by. There were also echoes of Planet B (Complete) in this story, for a variety of reasons. Not bad reasons! Yes, the editorial and overall production issues were there, but there was also the genetic engineering angle, and the solid earnestness of the storytelling.

From such a promising and intriguing start, things seemed to drag out with the not-a-clone Meta characters and an assortment of scenes that … well, the scenes made a sort of sense taken individually, but their transitions were jarring and strange, and the overall narrative was increasingly disjointed and hard to follow. I found the way male and female  characters were handled, in the prose, to be mildly uncomfortable but that seems to be a hazard of the genre, not necessarily just in indie writing but not not that, either.

There was fun action and fight scenes, but mostly it was just difficult to understand what was happening. And The Nemesis seemed to be completely forgotten about, finally returning to the narrative at the 78% mark. Maybe I was just disappointed because I was expecting the wrong thing, and I missed the point of the story. Oh well.

Sex-o-meter

A resounding Meh out of a possible Way-Hey on the sex-o-meter for this one. The Metas are very sexy, it says so plenty of times; and there’s a whole lot of male gaze to go around … but  there isn’t much actual hot-and-steamy unless it was hidden somewhere in the strange scene transitions.

Gore-o-meter

A fair amount right from the start, with the self-atomisation of the mysterious cabal and the even-handed mass-destructiveness of The Nemesis. The Meta are entertainingly brutal in their training and operations. It all adds up to a solid three quivering flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

I’m sorry to say it, but the biggest WTF here is how a book with such a promising opening and fascinating premise could slide so strangely into whatever the plot turned out to be. Like I said, some of this could have been my expectation of what the story was going to be about based on the prologue and opening chapters, and that was then subverted to my absolute confusion and discombobulation as the narrative progressed. I don’t know.

My Final Verdict

There are great and imaginative ideas here, and the (opening) philosophy of human selfishness and the possibility of working harmoniously and to universal benefit only if forced by some “evil” outside power is just brilliant, but executing those ingredients into a book has … been something of a mixed-result challenge from what I can make out. I can only award God’s Tear: Project TigerShark two stars.

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Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Let’s take a moment to sit and quietly appreciate this next SPSFC contender. I’m talking about a little story named Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage: A Funny Science Fiction Comedy Book, Galaxy Cruise – Complete Series Book 1, by Your Old Pal Marcus Alexander Hart. Yes, that’s what it says on the box. Someone likes their SEO and being everyone’s old pal, I guess.

This hilarious and action-packed ride into absolute sci-fi imaginative mayhem opens with a bunch of aliens doing human (or “American” as they call it) karaoke. It is, in short, perfection.

Humanity escaped the dying Earth in an assortment of ships, their occupants in cryogenic suspension. Most of them were lost or destroyed, and one – the ship launched from the USA – meandered off into space and was picked up four thousand years later by representatives of a strange alien union. They arrived at their own preconceptions of what these odd mammals were like based on their fragmented computer archives, then thawed out the actual people and put them on a refugee moon they called Eaglehaven.

Fast forward (I’m not sure how many, I think I missed it) years or generations. Our hero, Leo MacGavin, is an unwilling Dave Listeresque / Arthur Dentian space adventurer, stuck in a role he’s not happy with and looking forward to getting back to his home. At first I was puzzled because his job seemed amazingly fun and exciting, but yeah, no – all the aliens he’s forced to deal with are awful and the rest of humanity are right to not have any interest in leaving their new atmosphere. And humans are hysterically misunderstood and held in hilariously low regard.

I can really do no better than to copy-paste Hart’s own summary, which nails every single reference and homage I otherwise would have pointed out, and a couple I would have missed:


Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage is a hilarious science fiction comedy adventure for readers who love The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Space Team. And moviegoers who love Galaxy QuestSpaceballs, and Guardians of the Galaxy. And TV watchers who love Red DwarfFuturama, and The Orville. And people who basically just want to see The Love Boat on a spaceship.


Yes. There was also a Jurassic Park joke in there that should be acknowledged. And the cat people being from the planet Gellico is just *chef’s kiss*.

Leo is quickly flung into the thick of things as he is adopted by a Ba’lux human (American) fetishist. The Ba’lux are basically a highly technological and advanced race of evil aliens who rule the “union” into which the humans of Eaglehaven have been dropped. And when Leo is dragged into a bet between competing Ba’lux executives, he quickly ends up in an impossible situation. He has to captain a luxury starship, crewed by aliens who hate him and filled with tourists who think he’s a pet, on a vacation cruise – and if the cruise fails, his homeworld will be covered in poops.

It’s simple, it’s hilarious, and it’s the plot of this book.

This is a comedy, it is colourful and surreal, and it is crammed with outlandish aliens the likes of which I have been starved in this Star Trek dominated “aliens look like humans with alterations according to makeup budget” landscape. It is in no way sacrilegious to put this story in the same breath as Hitchhiker’s Guide. It’s valid. Valid, I say.

But let’s look past the jokes, because some readers (and a fucking exhausting number of critics) are so stuffy and serious and grimdark these days. Is there more to this story than just slapstick action, hyper-colourful wacky aliens, hilarious dialogue and entertaining sci-fi adventure  scenarios? I know, there doesn’t need to be any more than that. That is more than enough. But is there?

Yes. Yes there is. The stakes are real. The xenophobia, the unfairness, the cultural blindness and hypocrisy and self-righteousness, is perfectly balanced and the humour of it is a perfect way to make the medicine go down. The lampshading of planetary single-culture homogeneity we see in most sci-fi is flawless. And the characters, though cartoonish, have complex personalities and motivations. You could not ask for a deeper study of cultural appropriation, the fetishisation of the exotic, and the well-meaning yet harmful attitudes that exist at the far end of the xenophobia and supremacy scale. Not while also making you laugh. The closing exposition was so hilariously drawn-out, but so perfectly weighted and paced, I was left in awe.

Sometimes a story is good enough to make you think. But if you don’t want to think, then it’s a rare story that can still be good on that level. And there are absolutely hidden depths to this book that you will only appreciate on a second reading. I could not recommend it more, and I’m going to add the sequels to my to-read pile just as soon as I can. There’s a whole-arse series, and I may have to get them in paperback.

Sex-o-meter

At last, we get interspecies rumpy pumpy between a sexy cat girl and a hot houseplant (that is a quarter catnip on her mother’s side). Bless this man and every moment he spends with his hands on the keyboard. This book scores a James T. Kirk out of a possible Charlie Kirk on the sex-o-meter.

Gore-o-meter

For a book that is a comedy at heart and a light-hearted adventure first, second and third, there is a decent amount of violence and gore. Yes, most of the grossness is just in the lurid descriptions of the aliens, and a lot of the violence is comedic slapstick, but there’s a very real sense of the danger – Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage gets two quivering flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

I mean … the Waylade Tour Fleet’s initialism is literally “WTF”, and they talk about it a lot. And all these aliens! So many questions. Did T. S. Eliot have contact with Gellicles at some point, leading to his creation of Jellicle Cats? And what is a blue hole? Does it spew time? Engines dead? Air supply low? Advice please. This one gets a wibbly wobbly orange swirly thing in space out of a possible Vogon poetry jam on the WTF-o-meter.

My Final Verdict

On a personal level, I should have been infuriated by this book. It’s like a surrealist comedy version of one of my own stories, right down to the unfair bet made by the snooty federation-leaders and the human captain backed up by the true believer … but nope. I’m here for it, and I couldn’t approve more. Huck is the funniest swear ever. I’m giving this book five stars, but only because I can’t give it six.

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Bragg for Hire: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next in line for the Edpool treatment for SPSFC2 was Bragg For Hire, by John B. Cheek.

You know, every time I launch into a sci-fi action novel it’s a coin toss. Is this tough, grizzled noir-y living weapon with the haunted past and the mercs on his six actually a good character and the author knows what they’re doing? Or is the author absolutely sincere about this tough, grizzled noir-y living weapon with the haunted past and the mercs on his six being the one that will work, if they just commit to the trope extra hard?

Usually, it can be up to halfway through the book before I know for sure. Sometimes, even when it’s clear the author really means it, it’s okay because they’ve written it really well. Sometimes – and I have to say this is more an issue with traditionally published books than indie – the result is tiresome as fuck.

This time, as dubious as I was at the outset, I knew within a few pages. This character, this archetype is being handled cleverly, with good humour and strong knowledge of the terrain.

It’s funny though, isn’t it? I didn’t like the name Bragg. But Atticus Bragg? That I like. Walt was also likeable. I love his poetry and their banter is top-notch.

I should start at the start. Atticus Bragg is a career soldier turned mercenary after a series of events related to his refusal to leave comrades behind even if it means defying orders forced him out of the Imperial armed forces. This has left him something of an overblown folk hero among the grunts, much to his own bemusement, and simultaneously admired-but-not-publicly-acknowledged by the good brass, and loathed and looked down upon by the bad brass. We open on an amusing mercenary job as he attempts to get a diplomat to safety in one piece and manages to do one of those things. There is amusing action banter and quips and we get an excellent view of what this character is like.

From there, the main plot unfolds. Bragg is sent back to the planet he just evacuated the 85% of a diplomat from, this time to babysit a nobleman doing his mandatory armed service for political reasons. The planet is hostile and populated by an assortment of bugs and other critters, talks have broken down and the Empire is giving the place a bit of a stomping, and the babysitting job is supposed to be well away from the front lines and safe.

Lord Rail (see, this is how you name characters! Are our protagonists Atticus and Walt about to be railroaded into some kind of peril?) is not happy at being given such a clearly condescending command and he definitely doesn’t like the rough-and-ready mercenary attached to his unit against his wishes. It’s a simple and excellent setup, and I was relishing the idea of Bragg having to work his way into the good graces of this wealthy dingleberry and earn his role as advisor. Lord Rail gave me strong Arnold Rimmer vibes, and I loved it.

Of course, things go bad and the platoon ends up deep behind enemy lines in an alien-monster-infested wilderness. Getting into position as Rail’s trusted advisor becomes something of a ticking clock challenge as food begins to run out and soldiers begin dropping like flies. Or, more accurately, like humans being attacked by an assortment of horrifying alien insects. Thanks in very large part to Rail being a bit of a fuckwit.

What happens next is one part Platoon, one part Heart of Darkness, one part Predator, one part Saving Private Ryan, one part David Attenborough nature documentary and two parts Starship Troopers, and it was a lot of fun to read. Cool bugs, a thoughtful eye to xenobiology, good stuff all round. The ending was solid and the closure – and setup for further adventures – was good without being a total cliffhanger. Satisfying without being a complete vindication of the unfairness with which Bragg was treated. I was entertained.

Sex-o-meter

There wasn’t much. No time for sex really, and (not that this is necessarily a prerequisite but I’m just saying) there was really only one named female character who was set up as something of a potential sex-interest, but all in all it was handled sensibly. They weren’t going to fuck down there on the planet, were they? No. Too many bugs. It was fine. Bragg for Hire gets a regular-to-insect-intensive picnic out of a possible fun sexy porno picnic on the sex-o-meter.

Gore-o-meter

We got quite a bit of gore. Whenever you get humans on a giant bug planet (or bring the bug planet to them) you’re going to get a fair amount of humans ripped to pieces by horrible gleaming chitinous mandibles, and this book did not disappoint. The afflicted were kind of gross too, the whole food chain and life cycle was really well handled although I have to say the characters were all a bit slow on the uptake about those guys when they started itching from the inside … yes, after a certain point they played the “we all know exactly what’s about to happen” card, but it still felt like a realisation that came too late. What else could they have done though? Who knows. Anyway, three and a half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Not much WTF, this is a classic sci-fi action story and the world makes as much sense as any horrible alien bug world where everything is trying to kill you. The unanswered questions about the wider world-building, the Empire, and what sort of mining operation was going on before things went bad … well, it’s all mild WTF, but basically is an alien bug analogue of an advanced military culture stripping a third world nation of its resources, then getting all snooty about how savage the place is when the locals ask them to leave. No big mystery there. I give it a Klendathu out of a possible Spheron I.

My Final Verdict

I mean … the mutinous soldiers were kind of right, weren’t they? When an officer goes nuts and starts shooting people, they need to take him out? Isn’t that a bit of an exception to the insubordination rule? Or at least a medical case that the doctor could claim? Oh well. Anyway, this was a good read. Rail’s turnaround was inevitable, but still seemed to come a bit abruptly. Nevertheless, it was well earned. As was the four stars I will give this book on Amazon and Goodreads.

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