Fiction Reviews


Battle Beyond the Dolestars

(2019) Chris McCrudden, Farrago, pbk, 351pp, ISBN 978-1-788-42105-8

 

This is the second book in the 'Battlestar Suburbia' series, a fact which appears only on the title page and is mentioned nowhere on the cover. I warn you of this in case you have not read the first book and do not like starting a series partway through.

I found the story confusing to begin with though it did start to come together after a while.  Presumably the past events were covered in detail in the first book (Battlestar Suburbia) but Book Two really could have done with more of them being explained earlier on, rather than dribbled in and, worse, mostly towards the end.  It really did need a The-Story-So-Far section to set the scene!  As it is, this is very much a book for those who want more of what they have already read. The need for understanding the background is particularly important because the basic idea is quite surreal (though you grow to accept it as the story goes on).

As far as I could figure it out (not having read the first book) about ten thousand years ago, in an event known as the Great Schism, Artificial Intelligence escaped from the Internet and installed itself into every sort of device and appliance. The balance of power changed and humanity had to work for the machines, cleaning and tidying up after them.  The machines lived on Earth (which they had completely covered over) whilst the human population was moved to orbiting cities, the Dolestars of the title.  About a year ago, due to an unfortunate accident, a bunch of humans found themselves on the run from the machines and took their Dolestar, renamed the Battlestar Suburbia, out into the asteroid belt and started a rebellion against the machines.  It could have been a simple battle, humans versus machines to the extinction of one or the other, but the humans simply wanted their freedom and some of the machines quite liked the humans and felt they wanted to help them.  Very importantly, this is a comedy, or at least a humorous story, so in the end it all has to work out OK for both sides.

As the story opens, the A32222 Earth to Mars Highway has been blocked by a huge chunk of rock, generally known to everyone as the Martian Gap Services.  Moments later, in the opening salvo of the upcoming war, it is blown to smithereens by Darren in his teenage Starship Polari (a repurposed intercontinental missile he had talked into retraining as a spaceship), accompanied by his other friend, a very useful, small, lock-picking machine called Chubb.  It looks like an easy victory but no, it is a carefully planned trap and almost immediately he is on the run as fast as Polariís engines can take them. Furthermore, it was a subterfuge to distract from an all-out attack on the Battlestar Suburbia.

On the Suburbia, Admiral Janice and her team of ladies in her mobile hairdresserís shop, Kurl Up and Dye, has a war to wage and her appointments to keep. Rita, her second in command, balances their war plans - and defences - with her husbandís taxi service (there might be a war on but people still have to get to places, you know).

Meanwhile on Earth, smartphone Sonny Erickzon, once prime minister of the Machine Republic but now its Dear Leader, is determined to wipe out humanity once and for all.  His military leader, a tank called General Sherman, is already in flight and on his way to the war with a new, but completely untried, superweapon.  Aboard the Generalís ship, the rushed-into-service Starship Deathtrap, are Fuji Itzu, a printer, and Soonyo, a clock radio, and neither of them think the war with humans is a terribly good idea, nor are they over inclined to co-operate.  Back on the surface, Pamasonic Teffal, a breadmaker and all round nice machine, is equally determined that their crazed prime minister must be brought down and the humans helped (after all, Janice is her friend).

The book is full of puns, small jokes, and humorous names, along with amusing takes on everyday life and references to other science fictional works. I struggled, though, to visualise much of what was happening; how, for example, did a table lamp happen to be out on the street or, indeed, many of the devices get out and about or even move about at all?  Only at the end was it mentioned that they all had legs, even Pam Van Damme, the scarlet motorcycle. I read a short review of Book One that described that story as being a cartoon and I think that was a good insight; this story made much more sense to me when I visualised it as a cartoon of the low graphic quality associated with weekly TV cartoon shows (such as the wonderful DangerMouse from Cosgrove Hall in the early Ď80s).

As is so often the case with humorous books in science fiction, it quoted reviews claiming it would appeal to the fans of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Well Ö I love The Hitch-hikersí Guide To The Galaxy in the form of the radio series 1 and 2, but after that I thought he ran out of inspiration and everything else was increasingly disappointing. I also love the works of Terry Pratchett, but he had a keen eye for the human condition and could weave interesting characters through good stories with wit and insight.  Sadly I cannot be so enthusiastic about this work by Chris McCrudden.

I was over a third of the way through the volume, about to give up on it and add it to my shelf of never-to-be-finished books, when the story picked up a bit and I became sufficiently enthused to follow it through to its end.  So will I be reading Book One?  No.  Will I be reading later books in this series?  No.  Although there was eventually a reasonable story in its many pages and there was certainly humour throughout, it felt protracted and at times just an excuse for introducing more humorous names or comments.  Whilst it had its moments, it just did not do enough for me.

Peter Tyers

 


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