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 for the SPSFC semi-finalists, I will be taking a swing at a review for The Audacity, Book 1 of the Audacity series, by Carmen Loup. As I already went overboard on Hitchhiker’s Guide comparisons with another book in our team’s semi-finalist set, I won’t bother too much with making the same set of comparisons here. Frankly, Douglas Adams made enjoyable surrealist sci-fi comedy and the world needs more of it. As my own work has also been compared with his, I feel a great affection and affinity for anyone in the same boat, especially when the boat is in space. Yes, this story takes a hapless human into mind-boggling alien environments just as Earth is being all wrecked up, and flings them down the slip-‘n’-slide of absolutely random adventures in the company of a frenetic grinning weirdo with a heart of gold (figurative in this case; the ship is actually called the Audacity) … but while Loup and Adams may share a spirit, Loup’s voice is entirely Loup’s own. And I salute them.
Nothing but respect.
From the opening scene of an alien watching Earthly TV to a couple of our protagonists meeting each other and revealing that their names are ‘May June July’ and ‘August’, you know what you’re getting into from the moment you open this one up. Probably even earlier than that, in fact – this is one case where it’s fine to judge the book by its cover (and title). Because they’re funny. It’s funny. This book is a good time.
When a giant alien ship called the Peacemaker, powered by a dwarf sun within which a parasitic Chaos God has been squatting (it’s a whole Thing), turns up near Earth and abducts everyone, blows up a bunch of shit, then returns them all with instruction manuals on how to do shit properly, the stage is set. Our main protagonist May (June July) escapes after her abduction and runs into August and Ix. Their daring escape goes awry and May ends up aboard the Audacity with Xan, our sassy I Love Lucy-loving alien from the prologue, and Ix and August end up flung into the past to continue their plot thread among a series of junkyard planets.
Yvonne, the head of the alien invader / organisers, is then possessed by Chaos in a way not unlike the events of Mantivore Dreams or The Chaos Job. Whether Yvonne would have been an enemy or not without Chaos being in control(ish) is a question for the philosophers, since a) a large number of alien pro- and antagonists are in love with her, and b) the invasion and rearrangement of Earth seemed to have been happening anyway but was just made worse by Chaos and assorted others, as well as being sabotaged by Chaos because … well, it’s Chaos. It’s right there in the name, really.
I found myself rather charmed by the time-travelly long-way-round subplot with August and Ix. I was left resoundingly uncertain how many angles there were in the inter-character love triangle, and since it was a wacky alien love triangle I don’t suppose it really needed to be a triangle anyway. I was also left at a loss as to what the main human characters’ names being months meant, if anything.
All the weird hijinks and adventures come full circle and they return to Earth for the big showdown, as slapdash and slipshod as you would expect these characters and this situation to dictate. Somewhere in the middle May and Xan had time to have a whole rocket-racing subplot and not really win anything or make any progress, everyone had a few cracks at the fourth wall, and we were left with a very satisfying cliffhanger and a generally fun read.
Pretty genteel actually, for a secondary protagonist who is a … gigolo? There’s a bit of sleazy dude action, and a bit of hot alien-on-alien on-getting in the final chapters, but all in all this is a civilised and fun-loving bit of sci-fi comedy and it doesn’t get too down and dirty in its charming idiom. A Deuce Bigalow out of a possible Deuce Bigalow in space for The Audacity.
We’re treated to some surprising moments of graphic violence nicely spliced into the witty patter. Generally tastefully handled though, so it wasn’t all that jarring. Just … merciless, really. The universe is bizarre, but that certainly doesn’t mean it can’t kill you in some horrendously inventive ways. Life lesson right there. Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
Plenty, and nicely technicolour too! I can’t really list it all, but everything alien was beautifully alien and everything human was also beautifully alien. I was amused at the out-of-nowhere question about why spaceships would even have a self-destruct, and the subsequent realisation that so many spaceships in sci-fi seem to, and … why? They’re purely for drama, they can serve no other practical purpose. And no, “preventing the ship and / or crew from falling into enemy hands” is not a practical purpose. It’s drama. It’s a cyanide capsule tooth for a spaceship, is what it is. All in all though, this was just wacky surreal fun and I can’t say a word against it. My WTF-o-meter has given it a large alien slug inflated with helium and turned into a balloon out of a possible vending machine filled with strange alien underwear. It’s not for sale, someone just filled the machine up with pants and left.
My Final Verdict
The way Xan thinks of Earthlings is cute. The overall setup and mood of the story is cool, and the writing is very solid indeed. At the end, I was a little puzzled by May’s comment about getting a call and a job offer. I’m pretty sure she was being sarcastic and I was too tired to spot it. Overall this was pretty darn good, even if Douglas Adams did a lower-key and more subtle Douglas Adams impression in his day. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale, 7.5 out of 10. I’ll round it up to 8/10 for the term “dastardly cleavage”, though.