Creating something thatís truly funny within the scifi genre can be difficult. And Iím no expert on scifi humor, but hereís what I do know: 90 percent of it (like 90 percent of every genre, frankly) is execrable. Yet somehow, when scifi humor misses the mark, it feels exponentially worse. I canít explain to you why, or how this can be fixed. I only know bad scifi humor when I see it. Fortunately, No Small Bills does not fall into this category.
A little context may be useful here. My favorite humorous scifi author is Harry Harrison--I adore the Stainless Steel Rat novels. Iíve read Douglas Adams, Robert Aspirin, Doug Naylor, Rob Grant, Eric Frank Russell, Piers Antony, Christopher Moore, and Terry Pratchett, and I liked them too. So Iím no stranger to the highlights of the comic scifi scene. The author of No Small Bills, Aaron Rosenberg, doesnít quite (yet) live up to this illustrious company, but heís working on it. I liked the book well enough that I intend to check out the two planned DuckBob sequels whenever he gets around to writing them.
HereĎs my editorĎs disclosure: I know Aaron Rosenberg; I have his address on my Christmas card list. However, I purchased this book myself without his knowledge and he doesnít know Iím writing this review--heck, I didnít even know I was writing this review until about 10 minutes ago, when I needed something to fill up this page.
This is the story, in a nutshell. DuckBob Spinowitz is a regular guy--he likes women and Elvis, spent his college years as a member of a frat, downloads racy pics onto his work computer, makes bad jokes, and holds down a regular office job. Well, thereís one difference. DuckBob has some rather waterfowl-ish features, courtesy of a past alien abduction/experiment. Yes, this has made his life a bit difficult. One day, while minding his own business, heís taken by government agents. His mission: save the world, of course!
Turns out that his modified duck head makes him the one person who can realign the quantum fluctuation matrix. If he wants his planet to be able to withstand an alien invasion, heís got to seek it out. So, with his trusty new companions, the Federal agent he calls Tall, the gorgeous alien intermediary Mary, and Ned the plumber-tech guy, DuckBob travels 43 million light years to the galactic core where the matrix is located. This involves taking the intergalactic space train.
Naturally, itís not quite as easy as that sounds. In a series of episodic events, DuckBob encounters temporal raiders, flower-child dinosaurs, a metaphorical truck stop, interstellar garbage trucks, an extra-temporal prison, a monstrous scourge of the universe, a wild west-inspired space frontier town--you get the picture. Basically, he and his companions get into a lot of trouble--and then they get out of a lot of trouble. They also get punished for it, too, in weird and wonderful ways.
This is a genuinely funny novel, made wacky through ridiculous situations, cool ideas, crazy plans, interesting characters and the skilled use of technobabble. DuckBobís first-person narration is among the strengths of the book--heís a macho, irreverent, self-effacing dude with a good grasp of pop culture, and itís hard not to like his way of seeing the world as heĎs transported into a universe beyond his understanding. Rosenbergís work is light, silly, action-packed and well-paced. And DuckBob's space adventure makes an excellent fast read for those of us who crave a little humor in a genre that sometimes takes itself too seriously.
No Small Bills is being self-published by a consortium of writers that calls itself Crazy 8 Press; youíve heard of some of these guys if youĎve ever read scifi TV tie-in novels: Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Haumann, Aaron Rosenberg and Howard Weinstein. These well-respected authors have decided to bypass the traditional, restrictive publishing process for their own reasons, and will be planning a bi-monthly release schedule in the future.
At this point I have to add that, as an editor, I get solicited by self-published authors regularly--and Iím sometimes wary about reviewing their books because these can range from the truly awful to the brilliant, and tend to fall somewhere on the lower end of the scale. Many of them need a better editor, and some donít get edited at all. Iím the type of grammar geek who notices typos and usage errors that should have been caught and fixed prior to publication. I wonít buy a Kindle book with user reviews that mention grammatical errors within the text, or finish a book that has too many.
Crazy 8 Press, from what Iíve seen, could improve slightly upon this situation, but No Small Bills is a relatively clean manuscript in that respect. It's not perfect. This ebook does include a handful of errors such as a misspelling of the word Saran Wrap in one instance, but the quality of the text and the writing is quite good overall. I wouldnít expect less from the caliber of writer that Crazy 8 has collected.
No Small Bills is currently available as an ebook at both www.barnesandnoble.com and www.amazon.com for $2.99. A print version will be released by the end of 2011, so watch for it! You can also follow @RealDuckBob on Twitter or visit Crazy 8 Pressí website at www.crazy8press.com.