I have this thing for bugs lately and I have no idea where it came from. I really enjoyed writing the scenes with the Black Beetle for Crimson Son. He’s the Crimson Mask’s arch-nemesis and is a bit obsessed with insects. Bugs are efficient. Orderly. They’re often voted “Most Likely to Survive the Apocalypse” in their high school yearbooks.
And of course, for the past year I’ve been working on a fantasy series which stars a bugman.
Enter Christopher B. Wright’s, Pay Me, Bug!
Part space opera, part rebel smuggler homage, all wrapped up in a browncoat and set adrift in a quadrant that does not resemble Federation space, Wright has truly created something special here. This isn’t visionary sci-fi, though there is enough touch of innovation that ensures it never sinks too far into the formulaic. This is a fun, quip-filled romp which quickly develops into a complex heist with a backdrop of political intrigue.
Wright has also satisfied my inexplicable urge to see more bugs in fiction. It could be my infatuation, but Ktk, the engineer for the Fool’s Errand, is a complete scene stealer. Wright never bothers to try and onomatopoeia us to death with bug speak. Instead, since very few can under its language and Ktk refuses to wear a translator (it finds the emotionless robo-voice annoying), we hear Ktk “speak” in straight narrative passages that make plain what it has said.
Interestingly, these passages are flat and factual – quasi-robo voice one might say – and damned hilarious.
Oh yeah, there are others on board the smuggling ship. They are of the soft, squishy, water-filled variety. I suppose I can mention them if I must.
The rest of the crew is a fairly stereotypical collection of smugglers and ne’erdowells which you might find in a bar on Mos Eisley or lurking around the Eavesdown docks on Persephone. They aren’t all human, mind you. There are a few more aliens to round out the mix. But stereotypical does not mean uninteresting. Wright manages to create a chemistry with these characters that firmly establishes their past together as a rough and tumble group of privateers.
From the first page, this book pulls you into the action. And this a isn’t laser-firing, dogfighting kind of action. There is some of that, but most of the punches and bullseyes are accomplished with solid dialogue and character interaction.
In a few places Wright seems to want to draw us into a more traditional sci-fi tale. Heavier on the technical descriptions or processes of how stuff works. These are interesting passages, but don’t always advance or add to the plot. Wright is at his best when rogue-ish (and near-sighted) Captain Vindh is scheminging with his crew.
The universe he’s created also borrows from known quantities (specifically Firefly) without managing to be straight-up fan fiction. There is a complex political structure underlying the plot which includes religious zealots, telepaths, privateers and space-borne baronies.
To put it simply, this book was well-executed and a blast to read. Wright does a fantastic job making the world and crew feel established and using that unspoken past to repeatedly return and haunt the otherwise lucky scoundrels.
Buy it. Read it. Ktk would likely express his approval and you can be sure he has a bet riding on the outcome.
(Oh, and each chapter has a title preceded by “Wherein” so, if you want to rename my last week’s post to “Wherein I Pirate the Title Sentence Structure from Christopher Wright” then feel free.)