Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

Well here we are – or at least here I am – at the end of the first round of readings and reviews for the #SPSFC. Team Space Lasagna will be going ahead with ten books to read all the way through and then pick out their three semi-finalists (more about that in coming days), but since I have already read all the books and consider the reviewing to be the important part of my job here, I will be going on a little break. But first, here is my review of Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire, by G. M. Nair.

Team Space Lasagna unanimously voted to save this book until last, not just because of the captivatingly amusing title and cover and premise, but because of Nair’s positively Ryan Reynoldsian social media charm offensive. We were all enchanted, and not-so-secretly a little bit scared that Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire was going to suck and we were all going to be just super disappointed.

Well, Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire did not suck! In fact, Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire lived up to its promise and proved to be just as charming and silly and erudite as its relentlessly positive and engaging author made me feel it should. From the opening (a very nice play on the “crazy, inexplicable and bad shit that happens just before the fade to black and the text THIRTY-SIX HOURS EARLIER appears” trope) to the ending (that brings everything back around and awards the reader for maintaining their death-grip on the narrative toboggan no matter how many snowman children and infirm snowman elderlies it ploughs through along the way), I was captivated. And you’d better believe I was entertained.

Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire asks us the important questions. Like would you. You know what I mean. Would you. If you’ve read it, you know. I’m not going to answer it, but it is an important question. But there’s much more to this tale than carnal philosophy.

Right from the start, I was completely smitten by the two primary protagonists. Okay, I guess Calhoun counts as a lone secondary protagonist and / or hard-boiled antagonist with a heart of gold, but the true heroes here stole the show. Michael Duckett and Stephanie Dyer are the protagonists we deserve. A couple of chapters in, I just wanted to sit and read a  nice cosy book about this awkward guy meeting a girl and dating and the two of them both being adorable. But I knew, even as I read, that it was not to be. I knew it was all about to go wrong. I could not have predicted how utterly and amazingly that was going to happen, but – yeah, fine. My disappointment at the star-crossed Michael and Terri getting metaphorically pasted right in the ever-loving faces by that star they were just meant to be crossing … let’s say my disappointment was short-lived, and was quickly replaced by a sort of dizzy reader-concussion that had become the new normal by about the 20% mark.

What can one say about this book? It’s the story of a pair of unlikely but all-too-relatable friends – the anxious and life’s-problems-obsessed straight man, and the devil-may-care free-spirit comic relief[1] – and an adventure through space and time and alternate realities that makes Sliders look like a small, greasy hamburger of the same name. Speaking of hamburgers, this story has hamburgers. Rand McNally hamburgers.

I had to admire the dedication to deep-nested references. Irony, by Claire Colbrook, does not exist, but the same book by Claire Colebrook does. Claire Colbrook, meanwhile, did write a book called Sex After Life. Really makes you think. Also the former book is a little overpriced in my opinion, but the latter book is free in PDF form and I still didn’t download it. So yeah.

Things go steadily from crazy to crazier, with knights on giant rabbits jostling for page-space with monstrous cow-cultists that have eyeballs on their fingers (oh God, Coleman Supreen, I get it now), and a plot that carries us back and forth through time and alternate universes until nobody knows where they are or what is going on. And in the midst of it all, our protagonists manage to actually explore their own interpersonal issues and their pasts, and come to a profound understanding of one another and themselves. Stephanie Dyer, damn her eyes, just went ahead and John Candied me in act three – her daffy fuck-upness flipped over and broke my goddamn heart, and I’m going to hold it against Nair forever even though it was so fucking beautiful.

There’s nothing more I can say here. I’m done. This finished me. Time for a break. Let’s see if the meters have anything remotely useful to add before I go for a lie down.


Folks, it’s official. We have a parallel-universe-hopping threesome on our hands. Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire may not have pushed the sex-o-meter to its limits or really done anything much on-page per se, but I think it’s safe to say we have peaked. Let’s give this a Fry and his horny grandma out of a possible male Lister and his horny female Lister and their respective Rimmers.


A whole lot of people get ‘sploded, and a few just plain die. Again, we’re not exactly at gore-o-meter straining point but look, it’s a solid four-and-a-half flesh-gobbets. People get ‘sploded. A lot.


And the WTF is off the charts. Alternate universes and the opening up of a series-arc multi-versal threat, and – boom. I just got my WTF-o-meter repaired after Earthweeds and now it’s busted again. It’s giving this book a Creepy out of a possible Hatboy and that’s all I’m going to say. Regulars to the blog will get it, if regulars to the blog are even reading my reviews.

My Final Verdict

Look, for “laundrez-vous” alone I would have awarded this book five stars. That’s all it would have taken. And there’s a second book in the series, The One Hundred Percent Solution. What more can I say? I’m a fan now. Five stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale. I’m deducting a star for the blatant currying of favour Nair did on social media in an attempt to sway the judges’ deliberations. If he hadn’t been so underhanded in his attempts to subvert the course of the SPSFC, it would have been six stars. So you just think about that, Nair. You just sit there and think about what you did. Your pathological need to be liked has prevented a full-scale overhaul to the entire rating system on Amazon, Goodreads, and across the globe. Good job. Hope you’re proud.

[1] What? Did you think I was going to make a “straight man / bi woman” pun here? What kind of a hack do you take me for? I’m disappointed in you.

The Chaos Job: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

This week I also read The Chaos Job, Jackpot Drift Book 1, by T. M. Baumgartner.

All I really expected and hoped for from this book, based on the cover, was that it had something mildly amusing involving sheep in it. Never have my expectations been so thoroughly met, and exceeded.

I was intrigued, like I say, from the quirky title and cover of the book, and the opening hook was also neat – so I was on board from the start. This is reader-capture done exactly right. The Chaos Job introduces us to a very wild wild variant on the space western subgenre, and it’s very nicely done.

Sil – it’s short for Silver, and the prevailing neo-feudal culture of the story’s setting places great store in names denoting precious metals and minerals – is a Space Civil War veteran with a badly-tuned artificial leg, living in a run-down settlement on the frontier planet of Jackpot Drift, out in the middle of space nowhere. Rather than accept the shackles of civilisation and being beholden to The (Space) Man once again, she opted for a simple life of farming, trading her milk and cheese for the bare necessities down in the town near the farmland she was granted as a retirement right.

Sadly, milk and cheese require sheep and goats, and Sil’s sheep are fuckwits and her goats are … well, actually just goats. There are also mini-cows in this story but they’re presumably a bit too expensive for her, and there are horses but they’re definitely too expensive and also, have you ever tried to milk a horse? There’s a reason only Genghis Khan did that shit. But anyway. Even more sadly, Sil’s new homeworld is barely terraformed and is host to native wildlife and even plants that just completely fuck up any but the toughest livestock, and her mid-to-long-term plan to acquire genetically altered sheep sperm in order to breed some hardier stock is foiled by the local bully and quasi-noble, Glass.

Yes, this story is ultimately all about a tub of sheep jizz. Let’s just be clear on that.

Oh, and also Sil has some sort of parasite inside her – a “godlet of chaos”. We’re just casually introduced to this and expected to roll with it. I, for one, did. Because the whole story was just fucking fascinating.

Struggling to get by on a crappy patch of land on a crappy planet, her every attempt to improve her station shat upon by Glass who wants her to work for him as a nanotech repair mechanic, living in constant fear that her “godlet” will wind up getting her tracked down and taken away by chaos bounty hunters, and assisted on the farm by a deeply troubled AI named Stuck in the Mud, Sil is what you might characterise as a gorram mess (if one was of a mind to acknowledge the classics). She befriends a fellow war veteran – a “mech head” from the enemy side of the war, whose lot in life is even worse than hers – and together they just try to get to the end of the fucking book in one piece.

I was captivated, and amused, by this story from the start. Glass and his douchebaggery was infuriating, but his whole plot arc (especially with the horses) was hilarious and satisfying. The AIs scattered around town, conversation between which we are just randomly shown from time to time, were absolutely brilliant. The inevitable sheep-jizz heist, at least before the whole thing spiralled out of control and turned into something else entirely, was clean and simple. While we could ultimately have had a few less moving parts, the motivations of each character remained clear and the geometrically-escalating fuckedness of the whole situation was breathtaking … but never confusing.

And the payoff for the cover and title, specifically Mud’s sheep, was amazing. I laughed out loud. What a well-earned punchline after all the setup and technological worldbuilding. Every time we went back to the sheep, I laughed. That sheep was comedy gold. I don’t know if it was necessarily a load-bearing bit, but it was a fucking quality bit and I doff my hat to it.

All in all this was a fun, exciting, clever, page-turning little space western, with wonderful characters and a tight, intriguing plot. The villains were real shits, the heroes were also kind of grimy, and just when I was getting ready to roar in frustration it all concluded perfectly. In fact, I wasn’t really about to roar at any point, because I trusted Baumgartner and the narrative not to let me down. And I was not let down.


With a certain amount of classily expressed but entertainingly frequent sex, and some hot albeit anecdotal ghost moose on mini-cow action, this story has some raunch on its ranch. It doesn’t go overboard, but it’s solid. I give it a Yul Brynner’s head photoshopped to look like the knob-end of a penis out of a possible HBO’s version of Westworld.


There isn’t too much violence here, it’s not that sort of story – but it’s also a space western, so there’s a certain rough-and-tumble vibe to the whole thing. One-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.


I was very happy with the amount and quality of WTF in this story. I still have no idea what the godlets are and how they relate to the other “gods” introduced into the book’s wider mythos. Is it pure fantasy somehow, or is it deep-electronic science-fantasy? What are the AIs up to? What’s happening out there in the universe beyond Jackpot Drift’s skies? What does any of it mean? Just have to read and find out, I guess. I give The Chaos Job a River Tam out of a possible River Song.

My Final Verdict

I was left a little uncertain as to why the book title was what it was, since it didn’t quite relate to the story – but sure, there was a job, and there was chaos, so fine. And given the wider context of the series and the other titles coming in, I can squint and call it justified. This book was really excellent. We get some good mystery and setup for the series, but marvellous closure on the book level. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.

Stars Forever Black: An Edpool Review

(My bad; accidentally reposted a review from last week. Slightly sleep-deprived over here)

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

My final week of reviewing for the #SPSFC and Team Space Lasagna brought me Stars Forever Black, book 1 of the Star Lion Saga, by A. L. Bruno.

This Star Trekkian first contact story with a twist started out fun-and-simple and got steadily more intriguing and compelling as it went along. I’ve always been fascinated by stories of first contacts between different sentient species, whether it’s humans meeting aliens or humans-as-aliens – Stars Forever Black manages to package both together, as well as creating an actually complex and realistic alien culture that is still recognisable.

I was reminded of an episode of The Orville, where the crew runs into a human-like civilisation in the middle of a social media culture-meltdown. The Phelspharians are just on the cusp of their own social media event horizon, but it provides a perfect looking-glass into the real world and our present-day issues with trust, information, and communication. I was hooked from the start.

Issues with Phelspharian opinions of translation machines and interpreters leave first contact and diplomatic relations in the hands of relatively junior officer and known hothead Lt. Commander Jason Roberts, who was the only guy to put much effort into learning the language in the 18 months the research vessel spent in orbit, studying the Phelspharians and their budding global civilisation. With complicated alien traditions and values to contend with, to say nothing of his belligerent-arse shipmates and the occasional interstellar war flashback, Roberts has to navigate his own people to a peaceful cooperative level with the scared, backward Phelspharians.

Oh yeah, he has war flashbacks. Full-blown, sound-of-space-choppers, space-venetian-blind-shadows-across-the-face war flashbacks, and they’re actually not hackey or boring … in fact can I just take this opportunity to petition the science fiction community to rename them Venusian blinds for the purposes of the space-war-flashback trope? Thank you. Petition lodged. Let’s get back to it.

Things are not what they seem, on the planet below or in the depths of space above, and Roberts’s crew are caught in between as a long-dormant war re-erupts and they are tasked with preparing the hapless Phelspharians to become a part of it.

Throughout the story I was picturing Conrad as the Bajoran, Shaxs, in Star Trek: Lower Decks. Oh well. He could have done worse out of the whole thing.

The leader of the Phelspharians’ emergent worldwide cooperative of nations is a mediator known as the Kionel, an old warrior hero of old whose title has been rebranded as that of a diplomat, a sort of international ombudsman. It’s a very cool idea and there is a lot more going on under the surface, but the important thing is I got to use the word ombudsman. Twice!

This story has everything I have always found fascinating and fun about first contact scenarios. I was endlessly amused at the way Roberts recognises an alien media pundit and gets excited. The various Phelspharian media personalities, from the John Oliver / comedy news format analogue to the solemn yet division-mongering conservative analogue, are amazingly done. I was pulled out of the story briefly by a joking line about “central casting” that seemed a bit too Earth-specific considering the sheer quantity and quality of work Bruno put into making the rest of Phelspharia distinctly un-Earthlike, but I shook it off and jumped right back in.

We skip back and forth between several key player points of view, seeing some of the Soviet-esque working class and the propaganda, espionage and secret police actions that are taking place out of sight of the media and their focus on the aliens. It very effectively built tension, and managed to avoid the trap that jumping point-of-view often falls into – specifically that each arc gets cut off and the reader groans and is tempted to skip the next couple of chapters to get back to the cliffhanger on the original thread. Each thread was equally weighted and compelling, and that’s pretty fucking impressive.

I enjoyed all the depth and detail that went into this story at every level, from the beautiful complexity of Phelspharia’s nations and cultures, to the wider and largely-unexplored backstory of Terra (Earth) and the fragile interplanetary union to which it belongs. I liked the little hints we saw, like the reference to Terra’s nano-based physiological alteration experiments. And like I said, heck, I even liked Roberts’s war flashbacks. They were well crafted, gut-wrenching, and relevant to the story that was unfolding.

I confess I did wonder at one point how much longer I would be required to feel sorry for Conrad because the radiation therapy he got for being a hero had made him into a big fat idiot. Because he really was a big fat idiot for a lot of the book. Still, he got better. There was a moderately preachy message about social media in the form of a We Are Not So Different, Your People And Mine speech, but fuck it all, it worked. Trek at its best, and in a lot of ways Bruno surpassed the format – as one can, given a novel to work with rather than a 45-minute screenplay. One can, but one does not necessarily always do. Bruno did. Excellent job.


We are treated to a bit of tasteful pan-away sex. That’s about it. I predicted within a couple of pages of their introduction to one another that Roberts and Nashita were totally gonna Kirk, but that inevitability was left for the next book. Still nailed it, it counts, prediction stands. I’ll give this a … well, a Benjamin Sisko out of a possible James Kirk, I suppose. Makes sense. Moving on.


Stars Forever Black has got some brutality on it. Nasty soviet-style beatings and related violence, a terrorist machete-ing with massive  tissue and organ damage, and some truly ghastly space-war flashbacks. Three-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.


There are mysteries still to solve, but they’re not so much pure WTF as solid, high-performance reader-bait. What secrets are the Phelspharians and their Kionel still hiding? What’s going to happen with the oncoming war and the approaching Terran ships? How did this planet-full of early-21st-Century-analogous humans happen anyway? I can only hope the answers aren’t disappointing. I give it a Moriarty reprogramming the holodeck to contain a replica of the Enterprise out of a possible Q continuum.

My Final Verdict

Towards the end of the book we are treated to perhaps the best hocus pocus traditional interpretive dance mythos presentation I think I’ve ever seen in any medium. I was  kind of expecting the “stars forever black” line to be in there, but it was left to interpretation a bit. I genuinely cared, and teared up, and got myself a frisson with the ending. The various character interactions were so exciting to read, and so satisfying in their conclusions. I loved the conclusion and I have to read more. Five stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale, will definitely continue reading series.