Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Game of Battleships - Toby Frost

    2013; 320 pages.  Book Four  (out of 5) in the Space Captain Smith series  New Author? : No.  Genre : Sci-Fi Spoof; Space Opera.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    The cosmos needs saving!  Again.

    The forces of Evil: The Yull, the Lemming Men, the ant-like Ghasts, and the religiously-loco Edenites have joined forces, albeit uneasily, to conquer the galaxy and rid it of all that is good, including the British Space Empire and its tea.

    The good guys can use all the help they can get, even from the incredibly advanced, but creepily non-corporeal Vorl.  They’ve arranged a peace conference to attempt to sway the Vorl to their side, and the number one fear is an incursion by the bad guys, especially since it seems that one of the baddies has developed a lethal spaceship with a super-effective cloaking device.  And said warship just mauled a convoy of space freighters that was being protected by our hero, Captain Isambard Smith.

    Hey, Smith.  How’d you like to get another crack at that cloaked-up dreadnaught?

    Yes, we thought so.

What’s To Like...
    After a four-year hiatus following Book 3 (reviewed here), reportedly to successfully pursue a law degree, Toby Frost comes back with another solid addition to the Space Captain Smith series.  All of Smith’s crew are here, including the M’Lak headhunter Suruk, the android pilot Polly Carveth, the 25th-century flower-child Rhianna, and my favorite MacGuffin, Gerald the hamster.  Ditto for everyone from the British spy cadre – Major Wainscott, “W”, Susan, and bounty hunter extraordinaire Rick Dreckitt.

    Frost also introduces us to a bunch of new characters, among them Captain Felicity Fitzroy (look out, Rhianna!) and the mysterious and charismatic Le Fantome.  Quite a few new peeps are thrown at the reader at the start of the book, but I think that’s a plus in that it shows that the author isn’t just rehashing past tales. 

    There are three main plotlines.  Smith chases the cloaked warship; Wainscott protects the peace conference, and the baddies make plans to disrupt it.  Everything converges seamlessly.  The Ghasts are back, but they play a lesser role here, which I thought was a good move.  It’s always kewl to do battle with new Black Hats.

    A Game of Battleships is written in English, as opposed to “American”, and that always makes for entertaining reading.  There’s a slew of puns, and plays-on-words, which is the main reason I love this series.  A bunch of these involved the French language (“someone regretting Ryan”), which was an added treat.  I also liked the various tips-of-the-hat, including ones to Kraftwerk, Asterix, and Dave-&-Hal, they of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame.

    There really aren’t any slow spots, which is a Toby Frost trademark.  A Game of Battleships is a standalone novel, as well Book 4 of what appears to be a 5-volume series.  See Kindle Details, below.

Kewlest New Word...
Nobble (v.) : to obtain dishonestly; to steal.  (informal, a Britishism)
Others : Aspidistra (n.); Scrumpy (n.); Smalls (n., plural, a Britishism, informal); Lidar (n.).

    “Status report, revised,” she announced.  “We’re stuffed.”  She closed the logbook and sat down.
    “Any details?” Smith asked.
    “Alright then.  Basically, I’d say we’ve passed the stage of being merely inconvenienced and are now moving into the realm of being totally buggered.  Should the buggeration continue, I’m anticipating us losing not just paddle but canoe very shortly, leaving us floundering helplessly in the filthy rapids of a certain malodorous creek.”  (loc. 397)

    “Many years ago, when I was a mere spawn, impressionable and technically incapable of criminal responsibility, the elders of my tribe told me of a land beyond the great waterfall that plummets over the cliffs of Bront.  He who recited the correct charm and then leaped through the waters, would emerge in a land of wonders.  So I travelled for nine days, until the waters were in sight.
    Speaking the charm, I sprang through the waterfall.”
    ”What did you see?”
    “Stars, Mazuran.  I knocked myself out on the cliff.  The elders were lying through their mandibles.”  (loc. 2826)

Kindle Details...
    A Game of Battleships sells for $4.99 at Amazon.  The other four books in the series go for $4.99-$7.99.  The latest book in the series, End of Empires, was published in 2014.  I suspect it is the series’ finale.  Toby Frost issued Straken, the first e-book in a new series called Astra Militarum in 2016, and co-wrote a second book, titled eponymously, in that series last year as well.  But they are both only available for the Kindle at Amazon-UK, and neither has garnered any reviews yet.  Straken is available at Amazon as a paperback, but it goes for $16.00.  There are no reviews for that version either.

“Do you know Beethoven’s Ninth?”  “Really?  At what?”  (loc. 777)
    The ending was good, but not great.  It had an interesting twist to it, but I felt like I’d seen it used before in other stories, and it seemed a somewhat awkward fit here. 

    The big problem with A Game of Battleships is the formatting.  Typos abound, especially of two types: possessives and words with double L’s.  I tend to blame the publisher, Myrmidon Books, not the author for this.  Since my library carries the first three books in this series, I presume Toby Frost did not self-publish this.

    One typo that deserves special mention was the word “teachest”.  This should of course be two words: “tea chest” (but maybe it’s a single word in “British-speak”?), yet my mind kept trying to make it the superlative form of the word “teach”.  Talk about a brain freeze.

    It reminded me of a book I read years ago, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (reviewed here), which contained the presumably valid word mambaskin”.  Which means the skin of a certain snake.  But my brain kept trying to make it “mam baskin”, evidently a weird flavor at our local ice cream parlor.  Needless to say, this also resulted in a brain fart.

    7½ Stars.  If you liked the first three books in the series, you’ll not be disappointed in this one.

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