This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
This week’s #SPSFC allocation included The One: A Cruise Through the Solar System, by Eric Klein.
Join Armstrong on his all-expenses-paid 30-day cruise through the solar system on board the maiden voyage of the latest pleasure ship (complete with a beauty pageant and scientific symposium), as he tries to unravel an assassination plot and foil the biggest heist in history, the blurb for this story says. My immediate hope was that the beauty pageant and the scientific symposium be combined somehow, and I was ultimately not disappointed – even if the heist was a bit oversold.
Anyway, where were we? This story was a real classic piece of work and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a good hard-sci-fi look at the planets and moons of the solar system, a treatise on terraforming and colonisation, a look at space travel and technology, a solid weaving of past and future history, all stuffed into the framework of – well, like the blurb says, the framework of a dude named BJ Armstrong going on a luxury cruise like Corbin Dallas in The Fifth Element. Almost exactly like him, in fact, right down to the suspiciously convenient raffle prize and the adorable redhead. But I digress.
The story was also peppered with references to pop culture and golden age sci-fi, and sorry (not sorry) to say my notes while reading this book basically consisted of nothing more than me spotting references:
Helium, nice John Carter reference.
And a little Star Wars reference.
And a Torchwood / Doctor Who vortex manipulator reference.
Cute reference to Long Earth by Pratchett and Baxter.
The Mended Drum – Pratchett again? Wow there’s some references in this (but wait, it’s Callahans too?).
And a 2001 reference.
Aaaaand a TANSTAAFL reference, Heinlein.
Mildly disappointed Mimas was all about Star Wars and not Red Dwarf.
And an Invincibles reference.
It went on. You get the idea. It was very enjoyable to read, although I accept that this is probably going to be a matter of taste. I thoroughly enjoy a bit of referencing, although I generally appreciate them a bit more obscure or hidden in the story, these were fun. I also enjoy info-dump-style deep dives into the facts and figures of various planets and other concepts, so this was fun to me. I liked the illustrations and other stand-out texts and additions, turning this into a bit more of a multi-media experience. Really nice. However, someone in it for the space adventure or other storytelling elements may be let down by the depth of the raw information. I don’t know. I can’t speak for those idiots. I liked it.
The chapter openings, playing on the trope of quotations or other texts to introduce a chapter that can sometimes be annoying or otherwise skippable in many books, were great in this one. The little sequence of “one small step” quotations, and the way Klein blended history with fictional future-history, put a smile on my face (especially the Ganymede one). Really well done.
To move briefly away from the sciencey data stuff and the geeky-arse references for a moment, I will say that I enjoyed the plot itself. The characters were simple but entertaining, the ultimate villain was clearly broadcast very early in the story (I made a note of it, then another note that said simply LOL nailed it), and overall it was just a fun little adventure. I was not only struck by the unavoidable comparison to The Fifth Element which probably should have been lampshaded (maybe in the form of actual lampshades in the shape of alien relic-stones!), but I’d also just watched Avenue 5 so was unable to prevent the Captain from being Hugh Laurie and this inevitably led to BJ becoming Josh Gad and those comparisons do not hold up even slightly but it made it that much funnier, and frankly the characters in the book could have done worse. Anyway, the Avenue 5 one is on me, it was just amusing is all.
We even got a clever little meta-commentary on how modern sci-fi has changed from the golden age, particularly in the area of female character agency and attitudes in general, and the series of attempted-Captain-murders were funny right from the start. For the most part, though, the thinking this story requires is higher-level scientific and technology stuff, rather than the cultural impact of fiction and gender roles therein. Still, it did make me think. And I like a bit of that in my goofy space-cruise beauty pageant whodunnit.
We get some sex in this one, but it’s all very tasteful. We also get your typical rapey space pirates but it’s more … well I can do no better than to read off the sex-o-meter, which gives The One: A Cruise Through the Solar System a single Wild West goldrush mail-order bride out of a possible Piers Anthony Space Tyrant book.
Not really much gore here, most of the killings were prevented and what we ended up with was fairly civilised. One flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.
There was some WTFery thrown in here even though most of it was well-explained and solid. What WTF there was, then, was mostly in the form of throw-away lines. Stuff like the Titanic arriving, and the Empire State Building being moved, were tantalising but I didn’t need a story about them. We have Clarke for that. The deep Sharia law colony out in the solar system boondocks was amusing and gave the opportunity to show more commentary on women’s rights without getting too preachy and bigoted. I’ll give this story an earth, air, fire and water stone out of a possible Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich making out on an altar while Chris Tucker screams really, really piercingly in the background.
My Final Verdict
The One: A Cruise Through the Solar System is a love letter to the solar system we call home, and the creative giants who terraformed the science fiction landscape we currently live in. It was just plain nice. Four stars!