Saturday, May 25, 2019

Review: Gate Crashers by Patrick S. Tomlinson

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It's 2345 and the American/European Union Starship Magellan has just passed the 30 light year mark on it's way to explore Solonis B. This is the fathest from earth mankind has travelled. While the crew are in their peoplecicle state for the long journey, the ship's AI, known as Maggie, monitors the ship and surrounding space. Maggie detects an anomalous object that gnaws at her processors. What makes the object unusual is that it is completely at rest, something that should be impossible what with Newton's laws of motion and all. She awakens Capt. Allison Ridgway to authorize a flyby but when Maggie detects radio emissions from the object, Ridgeway knows they need to get their hands on the object and the entire crew is awakened. With the object in the shuttle bay and authorities alerted by the instantaneous QER (quantum entanglement radio), the Magellan heads back to earth. And then things go from weird to dangerous to life-threatening.

Tomlinson pretty much hits all the major SF tropes. We get: first contact, space opera, space marines, space combat, space poop, girl shy nerd, mad scientists, enterprising scientists and engineers, hard science, galactic politics, aliens with an unsettling knowledge of English (it's easy to learn) and Earth TV shows, a effective and stable civilian captain, an infuriatingly capable navy captain named Maximus Tiberius who falls somewhere between Star Trek's James Tiberius Kirk and Blackadder's Lord Flashheart, a snarky ship's AI who decides she must be female because she has to nurture so many helpless children, and lots of humor. You might also note some Star Trek and maybe Heinlein here.

Military action isn't a major theme of Gate Crashers but Tomlinson handles it realistically and very well. Likewise, the hard science is handled nicely so that you can read it thinking, okay, that works.

The humor is decidedly Douglas Adams-esque which is a major plus for me. In fact, alert readers will notice a direct homage to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The humor ranges from clever wordplay to downright silly. Kind of like throwing pasta at the wall, some stick, some don't. I could quote something that made me chuckle from most pages but here are two examples:
It was a cold, dark night in deep space. Of course, that's the sort of night experienced spacers preferred. A hot, bright night meant you'd flown into an uncharted star. Such nights were known for their brevity.
And then the silly
The Teskin are one of the most specialized carnivores in the known galaxy. They evolved over the millennia to infiltrate cocktail parties, wedding receptions, and class reunions. Once inside, they corner their unsuspecting prey and regale them with hours of banal anecdotes about office politics, family vacations, and medical issues. A successful hunt ends when the target kills itself out of desperation.
Gate Crashers is a fun and satisfying SF that I enjoyed so much I read all 414 pages in one sitting.

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Fortunately, there is a sequel titled Starship Repo so I don't have to wait for mure stories set in this universe. It features a female protagonist named Firstname Lastname due to a clerical error so I anticipate the same level of humor that appealed to me in Gate Crashers.

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