by Simon Haynes
Published by Fremantle Art Centre Press
393 pages, 2005
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
In Australia, with its small population, self-published genre fiction is not necessarily anything to be ashamed of. Most SF and fantasy publishing Down Under involves fat trilogies and the publishers only pick up one or two new authors a year. Quite a few very good writers miss out on publication by the large companies. There is, instead, the option of submitting work to the local, thriving small press industry, either such magazines as Aurealis or Andromeda Spaceways or one of a number of small companies that do novels. Or you can self-publish. Some Australian writers who originally self-published, such as Matthew Reilly, are picked up by trade publishers. Reilly is now an international bestseller.
Simon Haynes, a Western Australian writer, also started off as self-published. His original Hal Spacejock trilogy of comic space operas has become an underground cult hit, never out of print. Fremantle Arts Centre Press, publisher of such classics as A Fortunate Life and Sally Morgan's My Place, has decided to start off its new science fiction and fantasy list with a new edition of the Spacejock novels. It couldn't have done better.
Hal Spacejock is a freighter pilot in a distant future in which goods travel between planets instead of states and cities. Otherwise, there's not a huge amount of difference between his era and ours. Big business still rules and people still go to casinos to gamble. Hal is no Han Solo and his sidekick, the robot Clunk, is definitely not Chewbacca. There's no evil Empire, no mad scientist planning to take over the universe and no light-saber-bearing Chosen One needing a ride to rescue a Princess. Hal is basically a space-going truck driver who owes a lot of money (possibly his only connection with Han Solo) and desperately needs a load of goods to carry in his ship, the Black Gull which is held together by paper clips and chewing gum. He is given one last chance to carry a cargo which will pay his bills, along with assistance in the form of Clunk, who believes he is going to further training instead of the scrap heap his owner had planned.
The main problem is, someone else also wants the money and the cargo and is quite happy to do whatever it takes to get them. Someone who's a bit trigger happy.
The novel is closer to Red Dwarf or Harry Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero than to Honor Harrington or one of Elizabeth Moon's adventures. It's almost non-stop -- humorous -- action, with the hapless Hal getting caught up in one disaster after another, fortunately with Clunk to help him. Clunk is not unlike Red Dwarf's Kryten: klutzy, but with enough knowledge to be able to help his pilot get out of trouble. Also like Kryten, he seems to have a flexible enough face to be able to smile, frown and so on.
Even for those who have read the original novel, this one is worth adding to your personal library. It has been substantially reworked and around 11,000 words of new text have been added. The cover, while still recognizable, has been revised by its original artist, Les Peterson, and is looking a whole lot classier.
There just isn't enough humorous speculative fiction around these days. Too much of it is centered around gloomy future dystopias. This novel is very silly and a lot of fun, just the thing to read when all you want is to forget your troubles for a while and enjoy someone else's engaging and well-crafted world. | January 2006
Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.