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#296 Toby Frost: Space Captain Smith - Off in the distance
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2008-10-13 20:35
Subject: #296 Toby Frost: Space Captain Smith
Security: Public
Tags:books, reviews
Toby Frost: Space Captain Smith

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Myrmidon Books Ltd (6 May 2008)
ISBN-10: 1905802137
ISBN-13: 978-1905802135
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.
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Nik Whitehead: Betan
User: sharikkamur
Date: 2008-10-13 16:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Betan
I've had difficulty actually getting into this one. I've got about 4 chapters in and am struggling... enough to have read 6 other books since. I'll eventually finish it because I refuse to let a book beat me, but it's hard going.

Mind you, I found Flashman a little OTT as well, so it's probably no surprise I'm having problems with this.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2008-10-13 16:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I hve to say, I've not actually read the Flashman books, so I can't say how this compares. (Probably poorly, given the high reputation of McDonald Fraser's books.)

Maybe it's that I was in a mellower mood as I progresed through the book. Being at a con that's going well, among friends, one may end up being kinder than other times.
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User: nallac
Date: 2008-10-13 17:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I picked this up at one point, and browsed a few pages. It did seem a bit too 'Flashman in space' a the time, but I might give it another go.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2008-10-13 17:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The difference with Flashman is, of course, that Flashman was an out-and-out cad. Flashman in space would be interesting, but it'd be something different.
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