Boba Fett Need Not Apply (review: Space Punk)

6 Jun

I’m not surprised that the denizens of C.E. Lange’s Space Punk universe have a glut of bounty hunters roaming the universe trawling for bad guys.  Science fiction in general has the same problem.

Look guys, we’ve all watched Firefly.  We know that the early years of space colonization are going to be violent and anarchic.  But does that have to mean that every other sf novel on the shelf has to feature a rugged individualist, borderline-alcoholic, womanizing bounty hunter with a ridiculous name?  I  mean, really folks, let’s think outside the box.  And the escapes!  It’s like that annoying person in the RPG who simply will not die.  Your hero is not that lucky.  Take a page from George R.R. Martin or China Mieville and maim your protagonists once in a while.

Easy for me to say, I know–I’m not a fiction writer, probably never will be, and spend my free time picking perfectly respectable fiction apart for kicks and giggles.  But I think I speak for the average reader when I say: if you’re going to write about bounty hunting, try to make it original… somehow.

And somehow, C.E. Lange does just that.  (See, I’m not so mean, am I?)  Zane Abraham has a ridiculous name; he drinks; he womanizes; he’s a stunner of a pilot; and he’s our first-person narrator.  It’s a recipe for obnoxious.  And yet, Lange shies just clear of cliche with a deft touch of characterization: Zane Abraham is a terrible bounty hunter.  He admits it in the first line of the book:

Bounty hunting wasn’t meant for me, but I did it anyway.

If I’m being completely honest, I did not expect to like this book (see above).  Bounty hunting just isn’t for me, but in this case, I liked it anyway.

What can I say–Zane’s failure is kind of endearing.

Our hero (if I can justifiably call him that) is both likable and relatable–half the battle when it comes to getting a reader to stick a novel through, especially when it’s first-person narration and you’ll have that character’s voice echoing in your head for a week or two.  But I don’t mind Zane’s voice.  Our protagonist is variously cynical, sarcastic, bitter and bored, and he too feels the creeping lethargy a tedious book can bring on:

Nothing exciting happened for at least a week. Five of those days I drank way too much beer and the other couple of days were spent recouping from my five day bender. It was during this cool down period that I tried to finish the stupid book Victor had forced me to read. I tried to get myself through the book while I was drinking, but those pages had to be read again once I was sober, and even then it was difficult to follow the translation. About half of the way through, one of the characters became so long-winded that I lost interest in the spoon-fed plot, and it was hard for me to keep the pages turning when there was just so much boring space to look at. That was sarcasm.

But his story is neither long-winded nor spoon-fed.  And his reactions to the action of the novel are sometimes so incongruous as to be absolutely hilarious:

After I pulled out my pistol and shot [her] in the head, I felt pretty good about myself.

Not about the fact that I had taken somebody’s life, but the fact that I was able to function at optimum efficiency during a situation where previously I would have panicked and stood frozen. Other than having a little bit of experience catching small-time crooks, I had never shot anybody in the head. I had fired a couple of shots at people, mostly at their legs, and hit most of them, but I had never outright shot to kill somebody with one shot. It was mostly luck, I can tell you that honestly, but I was glad I had spent so many hours at the range back on Seejen. I knew the guy who ran a shooting depot in town, and most of the time he let me shoot for free, as long as I brought my own ammo.

Like I said: endearing.

Final Verdict:

Space Punk is conventional in plot and structure, but interesting and likable characters save the day.  C.E. Lange’s writing–via Zane Abraham’s narration–is dryly funny with a down-home sort of feel.  There may be a glut of bounty hunters in fiction, but as far as I’m concerned, the top job’s already been filled by Lange’s perpetually astonished anti-hero.  Boba Fett need not apply.

Reading time: Don’t take my incredible ability to get off-schedule as a guide to how long this book will take you.  At 125 pages in print, it’s a fairly short novel.  2 weeks.

Availability: Space Punk can be purchased as an ebook on Amazon for $2.99.  I suggest, as always, trying a sample for Kindle before buying.

You might also like… Pale Boundaries by Scott Cleveland.  It’s the first indie novel I ever reviewed, and it still have a special place in my heart.  From Cleveland, you’ll get the hunted, not the hunter, but there’s something comparable in the writing style.  And that’s a good thing.


5 Responses to “Boba Fett Need Not Apply (review: Space Punk)”

  1. Frida Fantastic June 7, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Great review. You always pick out the most awesome quotes, and Zane does sound really endearing. I share the same sentiment of looking for POV characters that don’t fit the established SF/F character type. And you’re right, the book’s extra characterization and ability to not take itself too seriously can make it an enjoyable read.

    I think SF/F writers need to be very aware of what tropes they’re dealing with and what’s already been done. A lot of readers read pretty heavily on specific genres (I read SF/F 80% of the time), so we’re all pretty genre-savvy and hungry for stories that explore new territory. I find it delightful to read books that are really aware of the tropes that they deal with and have a sense of humour. I love reading books with dark and serious tones too, but I only really enjoy those if they don’t remind me too strongly of other fiction.

    Speaking of characters, I rambled on twitter last night about SF/F POV characters. There’s a lot of books with white, male, and American (if set in the present or near-future) protagonists, and I kinda get bored of it. Whenever I see a blurb about a POV character who doesn’t fit that description, I go “Hallelujah!” and that adds a 40% chance of me sampling the book. If there’s a unique setting too (e.g. not post-apocalyptic America, not ye olde England-inspired epic fantasy), that adds another 40%. I think the quickest book purchase I’ve ever made was Kameron Hurley’s God’s War. The POV character is female, muslim, bisexual, has boxing skills, and gave off Ellen Ripley vibes. I bought it the ebook for $7.99 in 3 secs. I guess I’m not that price sensitive if it’s interesting enough. // Okay, tangential commenting over!

    • Isabela Morales June 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

      And yet… I can’t seem to read enough books about post-apocalyptic America (or watch tv shows like The Walking Dead). Justin Cronin’s The Passage gave me The Stand flashbacks, and Noah K. Mullette Gilman’s novel Luminous and Ominous is one of the best indie sf I’ve read/reviewed for this blog.

      Maybe, deep down, I want the world to end. Though in reality, I have such few practical life skills (hey guys! we can use this microfilm to distract the zombies with 1920s Mexican religious propaganda!) that I’d probably be the first one down. Alas.

  2. Frida Fantastic June 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm #

    Heh, different strokes for different folks. I still like post-apocalyptic fiction (actually, A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of my favourite books of all time… set in post-nuclear/apocalyptic America!) but maybe being Canadian makes me less interested with fiction in set in America. I don’t need stories to be set in Canada, but having settings outside of America is nice.

    Its interesting how much the zombiepocalypse is in the popular conscience. In our local shooting range, you can choose between two kinds of targets: the regular human silhouette, or the flesh-eating zombie. Not sure if that’s the case in most shooting ranges, but that is pretty sweet.

    • Isabela Morales June 7, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

      Oh, I LOVED A Canticle for Leibowitz. One of the few books I was willing to buy in paper.

      But hey, Canada’s the place to be for science fiction. You have Cory Doctorow, for goodness’ sake!

  3. Frida Fantastic June 8, 2011 at 12:44 am #

    Funny enough, I haven’t read a single fiction book by Doctorow. I’ve read plenty of his non-fiction essays and articles, but not a single novel. Gotta fix that.

    I’m actually hoping that the whole e-publishing indie-revolution thing bodes well for us Canadians. This is just my anecdotal commentary, but I think most traditional publishers who cater to a Canadian market don’t like ’em genre fiction. The successful intersection of trad published Canadian and SF/F mostly starts and ends with Robert J. Sawyer. I’m exaggerating, but really, I can’t name anyone else. The stereotype is that Canadian publishers like literary dramas set in dreary prairie towns during WWII. If I’m not mistaken, I think it’s a reason why Jeff Pearce (author of Reich TV) decided to go small press.

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