Friday, January 2, 2015

Book Review: Space Vulture

© 2008 by Gary K. Wolf and John J. Myers

Did I like it?  Yes.  Was it meaningful, earth-shattering in any way, profound?  Nah.  But it was interesting, exciting in places, more-than-occasionally funny, populated with unique characters.  A page-turner that drew you in.  Most importantly, it did what it set out to do: revisit and pay homage to a subgenre of Science Fiction called the Space Opera.

Space Opera is kinda like a soap opera set in outer space.  Your typical one is chock full o’ galactic empires good and evil, aliens, princesses, swashbucklers, ray guns, rockets, robots, action, adventure, romance, and melodrama.  If the movie Star Wars comes immediately to mind, give yourself a hundred points.  George Lucas, unable to secure the rights to Flash Gordon, went and wrote his own space opera and it rejuvenated the genre.

The best definition for it I’ve read is from Brian Aldiss: “the good old stuff.”

Me, I came of age as a science fiction fanatic in the mid-to-late-70s, cutting my teeth more on “hard SF” tales and the “New Wave” of the 60s where science fiction became a tool to mind experiment and noodle with time-honored social conventions.  However …

While not personally not a huge fan of the space opera subgenre, I read my share as a kid, beginning with Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Princess of Mars and a bunch of its sequels.  His Pirates of Venus endlessly fascinated me sometime around 1978 or 79 – I recall taking the book wherever I went, including the high-school football games my father coached, reading it under the bleachers.  As mentioned, the movie Star Wars, as well as the original run of the teevee show Battlestar Galactica and its late-70s competitor Buck Rogers riveted me.  I even watched some Flash Gordon reruns with my dad one day one spring at my grandmother’s house.

A few years ago, on a whim, I picked up an entry in the E.E. “Doc” Smith “Lensman” series.  It didn’t exactly take me, but I hacked my way through it.  When the basement flooded back in ’09, my aunt saw the carcass of the book floating in the bilge and bought me a new copy.  Which I will re-read again one day.

And so I came to Space Vulture.

On first glance, this book seems custom written for me.  Its co-authors, friends since childhood, are Gary K. Wolf and John Myers.  Gary K. Wolf is of Killerbowl, A Generation Removed, and The Resurrectionist fame, and a genuine icon of my childhood – each of those three books fascinated and undoubtedly influenced me to no end.  Oh, and he also made his fortune writing a little book about a cartoon character named Roger Rabbit.  John J. Myers is the Catholic Archbishop of Newark, and the thought of reading a science fiction book written by a Catholic Archbishop intrigued me the moment I heard about it.  So I bought it one day at B&N and a few weeks ago finally got around to reading it.

Space Vulture was deliberately written to evoke the space operas the two authors devoured as children in the 1940s out in Illinois.  All the elements are there: dastardly villain Space Vulture, dashing Space Patrolman Victor Corsaire, the damsel-in-distress (updated to 21st-century testosterone-laden lady) who would die to save her two young boys, a shady criminal who has a novel-long change of heart, some of the most delightfully disgusting alien species I’ve ever read about, hand-to-hand combat, blasters firing away showdowns, sneaky escapes, terrible tortures, slave worlds, farm worlds, deserted archaeological worlds stalked by mechanical guardians, space ships and escape pods, and a robot named Can Head, who should have lasted longer than the first chapter.

Space Vulture and Vic Corsaire are two of the most hammiest villain-and-hero combos I’ve ever read about, but, you know, it works!  They came to life right off the page, despite the whole ridiculousness of the thing, and I could really envision this as an updated Flash-Gordon-with-CGI if anyone was ever daring enough to put this on the big or small screen.  I would read more, and was pleased to see that the authors set up the possibility of a sequel at novel’s end, with our titular menace inexplicably disappearing from the inescapable prison world of Purgatory.

Grade: A –

I’m passing it along to my 11-year-old godson next time I see him.

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