Hal Spacejock #3: Just Desserts

by Simon Haynes

Published by Fremantle Art Centre Press

344 pages, 2007



Big Dopes in Space

Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski

This is the third in what is likely to be a long-lasting series. At least, at the front of Just Desserts, author Simon Haynes says there will be about 15 volumes in the saga, or until someone takes away his keyboard. As this keyboard theft seems unlikely to happen in the near future, fans of the series should have plenty more Hal adventures to anticipate.

In the first novel, we met Hal Spacejock, an utterly incompetent, luckless interstellar truck driver. Hal’s spaceship was held together by chewing gum and rubber bands. By the end of the novel, he’d acquired a much better ship, the Volante (meaning "stolen"?), courtesy of the villains. Well, they didn’t need it any more. He had also acquired a robot companion, Clunk, who was, fortunately, a lot brighter than Hal.

The world of this series features no super-villains in breath-masks, no Dark Lords trying to take over the universe an no Imperial Storm Trooper-like protectors, only multimillionaires trying to become even wealthier and the thugs they employ to help them in their plans to rip everyone off. People are still people and just as likely to be fooled. All Hal wants, in this book, is a cup of coffee and a sweet snack, but it’s not to be.

In Just Desserts, the evil plot extends beyond plotting businessmen to planetary trade. There’s a beautiful woman who is actually a robot. She has a mission, but, for reasons explained near the end of the novel, doesn’t know what it is. She has a large budget to offer Hal to transport a certain cargo, but the Volante, still a good ship, needs replacement parts which aren’t available locally. Hal and Clunk have to take a job on a space liner to get where they can buy the parts. When they return to find the Volante missing, they’re stuck with another chewing-gum and rubber-band ship with which to pursue the thief and -- quite accidentally -- save the day, while causing the usual mayhem. Think A Night At The Opera or any other Marx Brothers movie, in which pompous characters get their -- er -- just deserts, in the midst of mostly unintended chaos. There are several such scenes, but I am thinking in particular of what happens in the course of a robotics trade show raided by Hal and Clunk, who just want to deliver their freight and be paid. One can almost see Groucho, Chico and Harpo running around in the background.

At times, I wondered if the author was throwing in unnecessary scenes just to add to the humour, but somehow all loose ends were tied by the end. The female robot was actually a sympathetic character who didn’t, in my opinion, deserve what happened to her. Oh, well.

Just Desserts is pretty much standalone; a separate adventure, though you’ll probably get more out of it if you know who the characters are and how they relate to each other. The first two novels are certainly worth going back to read.

If you enjoy golden age comic space operas, such as Harry Harrison’s, you’ll like this. | May 2007

Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.