Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Myrmidon Books Ltd (6 May 2008)
Category(ies): Humorous SF
Humorous SF or Fantasy is a tricky form to get right, and all too often, the result is rather feeble, with names such as Andrew Harman ending up as warning signs rather than recommendations. So for Frost to have gone for this for his first novel indicates bravery, foolhardiness, or just great self-confidence. Judging by his face as he sold me this book (without mentioning that he was the writer), I'd go for the last.
The setup is quite simple. The second British Empire bestrides the stars, but there are two other powers out there to worry about. Firstly, the insanely fundamentalist Republic of New Eden. And secondly, the ant-like Ghast, a hive-based species as nasty as Neal Asher's Prador (but done to humorous effect). Empire tacticians decide that they need to set a trap, and promote our eponymous hero to be the skipper of a ship whose mission is to go collect a woman named Rhianna Mitchell from New Francisco and take her somewhere else. Our Isambard Smith is a little disappointed at the sheer level of dilapidation of his new command, and that he only has a single crewman, an android pilot who's disconcertingly reading the Haynes manual for the ship. On the other hand, he has his faithful head-collecting alien companion Suruk, so what could go wrong?
Did I mention the trap?
Ah yes. The idea, unknown to him, is that he makes the pickup, the bad guys follow him, and a huge great warship then takes out the bad guys. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out like that, as the bad guys manage to turn the tables and utterly destroy the battleship. At this point, Smith ends up running for his life, while still attempting to carry out his mission.
So, is the story successful?
There are a few times when the fact that this is a first novel becomes apparent - some of the plot manoeuvrings were a little clumsy. But on the whole, it worked for me. There were affectionate - but brief - allusions to all sorts of SF favourites (some very oblique - and it's possible the Babylon 5 one wasn't intended). The use of deliberate anachronism (the Haynes manual, for example) is at first worrying, but like Robert Rankin's style, it's something I got used to. What I did like is that Smith is nicely drawn. He's true to his origins as an officer of the Empire, but he's not the two-dimensional caricature he could have been, and he is, ultimately, a heroic man. I've mentioned Rankin already, but the writer whose work this most closely reminded me of is Bob Shaw, with his Warren Peace novels.
A promising debut. I bought the sequel.