Stringers - Book Review
by Chris Panatier
April 12, 2022
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review! Thank you to Angry Robot for the e-arc, and then for the physical copy so I could be part of the book tour!
Stringers is an exciting, fast-paced, and fun space opera with a villain that balances humour with evilness, interesting and memorable characters, and many many comedic elements.
Knowledge can get you killed. Especially if you have no idea what it means.
Ben is NOT a genius, but he can spout facts about animals and wristwatches with the best of experts. He just can’t explain how he knows any of it.
He also knows about the Chime. What it is or why it’s important he couldn’t say. But this knowledge is about to get him in a whole heap of trouble.
After he and his best friend Patton are abducted by a trash-talking, flesh-construct alien bounty hunter, Ben finds out just how much he is worth… and how dangerous he can be. Hopefully Patton and a stubborn jar of pickles will be enough to help him through. Because being able to describe the mating habits of Brazilian bark lice isn’t going to save them.
A lot of the time humour in books can make you cringe. I applaud anyone who tries because chances are half the people (or more) won’t find it funny. This book, though, entirely worked for me. It’s not a comedy with sci-fi elements, but a sci-fi with more jokes than usual. It’s not a satire or a parody, but it’s a great balance between silly and serious. It’s compared to Hitchhiker’s Guide, but while there are similar elements (unwitting human man is taken into space by aliens) the tone and trajectory are quite different.
The characters' goals change throughout the novel, but the story maintains its tension and tone. The novel touches on serious subjects but never too much that we forget it's more in the romp category than space opera, but it’s not too much of a romp that it loses its narrative purpose. It’s a book about friendship as well as survival. In that vein, it reminds me of Shaun of the Dead.
The humour is a mix of absurdity and wordplay. We have moments like when a person while being abducted eats an entire baggie of shrooms, a running joke about a jar of pickles that serves a narrative purpose, and then these weird foot-notes that I’ll admit I’m not sure what they were for but I found them very enjoyable.
The characters are what made the story for me. While Ben and Patton are the main characters with their own compelling plotline (the friendship one), the side-plot (which is given almost as much focus) with Naecia was my favourite aspect of the story. I loved that she was a) an alien b) take-charge but also just a normal person and c) not a love interest “prize” for the main character.
But it could also be that I loved her storyline because it was the one featuring Aptat, the bad guy. If you want a villain who wavers between chaotic neutral and chaotic evil, but is somehow also very very funny, this is the book for you. I loved Aptat. I loved their sad backstory. I loved their deranged take on life, and I shipped them and Naecia so hard, despite it being highly problematic.
I also liked Izairis, the lesbian, hacker, swearing nun. She was in the story just enough to be funny but not enough that she became over-the-top.
When it came to the story, it’s a space opera through and through (complete with new planets and save the universe goals), but one thing I would have liked would have been more explanation of how the universe functioned. I couldn’t entirely picture the universe that the characters lived in. Granted, most of the time is spent in spaceships, which might be why, but I could have handled a few info-dumps from Naecia or the other aliens imparting said info. It just felt like the one city they go to is like the only city, even though it clearly was not.
But, aside from that, I really enjoyed the novel. I even liked the “in cyberspace” scenes, which is a trope I’m generally not fond of. And, of course, though humour is subjective, I found this book incredibly funny.
Thank you again to Angry Robot for the physical copy! I love it. And now I’m going to go eat some pickles.