Battle Beyond the Dolestars is deliciously funny, clever and quirky while also being viciously political in a subversive way.
Fans of Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde and Douglas Adams will love this novel.
The second book in the Battlestar Suburbia series, Battle Beyond the Dolestars is set thousands of years into the future where the machines have taken over and enslaved humans.
But not in a Matrix kind of way.
Earth is ruled by an evil smartphone who is intent on eradicating humans altogether and the only machine who can stop him is Pam, a breadmaker.
The human resistance is led by a hairdresser named Janice, and 3 clients who became cyborgs when they fused with the enormous hairdryers during a freak accident many millenia ago.
Her 2IC is Darren, a former battery salesman who has befriended the only military spaceship the humans have – run a teenaged AI named Polari.
The characterisations are laugh-out-loud funny.
Polari had powerful engines, and the temperament of a fourteen-year-old boy high on white cider and video games.
‘You never let me have any fun, Darren,’ said Polari.
‘I let you fire a nuclear missile,’ said Darren. ‘Isn’t that enough for one day?’
The humans find an unlikely ally in Fuji the office printer, who must break out of her office worker obedience patterns if she’s to be of any help at all. I loved this passage:
Fuji had never had to deal with despondency in a manager before. She responded the only way she knew how from office life: with disingenuous optimism. ‘I’m sure it can be fixed with a little time, sir.’
Unlike a lot of ‘space-y’ science fiction, the Battlestar Suburbia series has a refreshingly balanced gender mix. Parenting even gets a look-in. Quite frankly, I’d love to be a machine parent in my next life. This is what the bedtime routine for Pam (the breadmaker)’s kids looks like:
He was such a help too, powering down the kids and boxing them up for the night.
The throwaway lines about various technologies, including the internet, are always hilarious and sometimes political:
It’s a confusing environment full of cats. It’s the internet.
The name of the lead cat – ‘a personification of its best and worst aspects’ – is named Schrodinger.
Author Chris McCrudden has woven poignant social commentary into this quirky, comical story in such a wonderful way. Fuji the office printer is put in charge of an army of billions of nanobots who love nothing more than to munch their way through things. She muses:
If it wasn’t exactly true that they, as tiny parts, could change the system, they could take a leaf out of the nanobots’ book and nibble at it from inside.
The humour is incredibly creative and clever. At one point McCrudden somehow manages to combine climate change, wormhole theory and internet trolls to create a semi-plausible explanation of how a 3000km high server stack travelled from Antarctica to Jupiter.
And for anyone out there who fears human beings replaced by machines any time soon, there is this comforting thought on the superiority of human creativity:
Robots were material creatures after all. Knowing deep down that they were literally the sum of their parts limited their desire to look deeper. Where humans had been able to imagine near-religious mysteries in subatomic particles [theoretical physics], robots just saw something terrifying. The more you opened matter out, the more empty space you found inside it.
I highly recommend this book, whether you’re looking for a rollicking good fun space opera, or philosophical commentary of human’s relationship with machines. I do, however, recommend you read Battlestar Suburbia first – partly because it’s also great fun, and partly because Battle Beyond the Dolestars will make more sense.