Fiction Reviews

Sashay to the Centre of the Earth

(2022) Chris McCrudden, Farrago, £8.99, pbk, 336pp, ISBN 978-1-788-42377-9


A year on from the human-machine war, both sides are struggling to share custody of the solar system. Prime Minister Fuji Itsu should be fighting Carin Parkeon, the parking meter determined to become the planet’s new manager. But no one has seen Fuji since she fell through the Earth’s crumbling concrete crust. Janice, the First Minister Janice of the Battlestar Suburbia has learned two truths. Humankind is only two meals from anarchy, and you should think twice before giving planning approval to a new supermarket. Somewhere in between, bread-maker turned secret agent Pamasonic Teffal is trying to bring the sides together without curdling them.

True confession time. I have not read the author's Battlestar Suburbia or Battle Beyond the Dolestars, the two books which preceded Sashay to the Centre of the Earth, not that it really got in the way of reading this title as it is an easy read, told fairly briskly over 45 chapters, which is the sort of pace I like, especially with something as, well, bonkers, as this is. It’s not your standard people versus the machines with Skynet taking over and enforcing their law with killer robot thingies, it’s more people verses household appliances, which given many folks frustrations with labour-saving devices is a smart ploy by McCrudden.

The very idea of a printer that is Prime Minister of the Machine Republic fighting to stay in charge against political in-fighting, led by a parking meter ,gives you a flavour of how irreverent the plot is, and the plot is light, and fast-moving, jammed full of action and wacky characters, especially the sentient machines such as bread-makers, toasters, mobile phones, hair dryers and smart speakers, who, despite their metal or plastic cladding can be just as petty and emotional as the humans they are trying to outwit, or rather beat into submission – again. Yes, again, as this is the year ten thousand and something, and the humans have rebelled against their machine masters and are no longer their servants, but only as long as the uneasy peace holds; and while the humans want that peace to last, there are some among the appliance ranks who would like a return to the old days, and ways, with them in charge.

What we get here is a quest, of sorts – after all, what are we trying to sashay towards? Combined with warring factions and even sentient non-bio-degradable plastic to deal with (which reminded me a lot of John Skipp and Craig Spector’s eco-horror novel The Bridge from back in the day, concerning toxic waste which could think for itself). And while things aren’t very rosy in the oceans because of all the pollution, although most of the water has been thoughtfully covered in concrete to make it more android-friendly; things aren’t so great on the orbiting Battlestar Suburbia thanks to the opening of a new supermarket called ALGI – now, why did anyone think having an automated supermarket with added lasers was a good idea? If they did, they are about to find out they have made a grave mistake resulting in First Minister Janice having to team up with the staff of the Kurl Up and Dye salon to try and grow fruit and veg. Yes, it does sound bonkers, doesn’t it?

This is more a mash-up of Robert Rankin and Red Dwarf than the sedate humour of Terry Pratchett, with dollops of cheesy campness thrown into the mix. It really is a throwback to TV series of old like Are You Being Served, or maybe Dick Emery, or those serials that used to form part of The Two Ronnies programmes like a mad science fiction version of “The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town” (note to readers who have no idea what I’m talking out – Goggle or YouTube it!). No shady corner of British popular culture is safe from McCrudden’s spotlight as we get rude references and puns galore. It’s science fiction humour, Jim, but not as we know it.

Great fun.

Ian Hunter


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