Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Review: Starship Grifters, by Robert Kroese

From the author of The Big Sheep, comes Starship Grifters.

.... Remember how strange The Big Sheep was?
A space-faring ne’er-do-well with more bravado than brains, Rex Nihilo plies the known universe in a tireless quest for his own personal gain. But when he fleeces a wealthy weapons dealer in a high-stakes poker game, he ends up winning a worthless planet…and owing an outstanding debt more vast than space itself!

The only way for Rex to escape a lifetime of torture on the prison world Gulagatraz is to score a big payday by pulling off his biggest scam. But getting mixed up in the struggle between the tyrannical Malarchian Empire and the plucky rebels of the Revolting Front—and trying to double-cross them both—may be his biggest mistake. Luckily for Rex, his frustrated but faithful robot sidekick has the cyber-smarts to deal with buxom bounty hunters, pudgy princesses, overbearing overlords, and interstellar evangelists…while still keeping Rex’s martini glass filled.
Okay, brace yourselves, this is going to be really strange.

Imagine PG Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster series. Make Bertie Wooster an interstellar con man with problems holding onto a single time, even in his successful cons. Make Jeeves a vaguely female robot who can't actually have an original thought -- for consistent, well explained and thought out reasons -- without shutting down. Put them onto a gambling casino, that's raided by "the Malarchy," drop them into a dead world that's in hock up to its eyeballs, and have them chase and be chased all over creation.

It's quite insane.

And, in case you haven't figured it out, this parodies elements of Star Wars: the Malarchy as Evil Empire, with a henchman with a high-pitched voice instead of James Earl Jones; the Revolting Front was a Rebel Alliance, "Until the law suit;" the Marlachy marines have a really good reason for their surprisingly terrible aim. The princess is built like the fat lady in an opera.

Imagine if Terry Pratchett had only seen Spaceballs and decided "I can top that."

The funniest part of all of this is ... it all fits together neatly by the time it's all said and done. It's a brilliantly constructed puzzle that you didn't even know was coming together. As Matt Bowman pointed out, con movies are supposed to con the audiences as well as the mark in the story. This one cons the mark, cons the audience, and cons the con artists.

It's quite the piece of work. I think at the end of the day, I may have to reread this in order to see just how well this is all put together.

Personally, I still recommend The Big Sheep. But if you've already read that one, I'd suggest Starship Grifters as a good followup.

Let's give this one four out of five. Or 4.5 out of five.

Also, the sequel is out today.

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