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Bewildering Stories

Simon Haynes, Hal Spacejock

reviewed by Clyde Andrews

Hal Spacejock
Author: Simon Haynes
Fremantle Arts Centre Press;
Hardcover: $19.95 AU
Length: 395 pages
ISBN: 1-92073-189-X

If you haven’t heard of Simon Haynes, then that’s fine. But for those interested, he’s one of the key people behind Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (ASIM). What this all means is that I was familiar with Simon’s short stories, and was looking forward to reading his debut novel.

I like science fiction, and I especially like humorous speculative stories. So, knowing Simon Haynes’ work, I was already in a good frame of mind when I picked up a copy of his novel Hal Spacejock. The cover blurb read: “Funnier than Red Dwarf.” I was intrigued. Humorous sci-fi; how interesting.

As soon as I got it home I started it, and the first thing that struck me was that the narrative style was very easy to read. I don’t mean easy as in simple language, rather, I mean the narrative had a conversational style to it that flowed very nicely. What with situations coming thick and fast it sure helped keep up with what was going on. What also helped for me was the fact that there were only a few characters: Hal Spacejock himself, his ship’s computer, Clunk his robot sidekick, and a few bad guys led by a Mr. Walter Jerling. This gave the author plenty of room to develop and make them believable within the narrative. Even the minor characters were quite well fleshed out.

From the first scene, where Hal is playing chess with the ship’s computer, to the next, where his ship the Black Gull is boarded by a couple of rather nasty debt collectors, the action is fast-paced.

Which brings me to Hal, the main character. He is, to put it bluntly, a bit of a loser. He’s incompetent, accident-prone and only just manages to get on in life by the skin of his teeth. He’s deeply in debt, and the only thing he owns is an aging, decrepit old spaceship, the Black Gull.

And that’s where the story begins. Hal owes money to Jerling and has every chance of losing his beloved ship. That is, until a deal is made and Hal must make one last shipment to pay this debt. With one condition: a robot named Clunk who is working for Jerling must go with Hal to keep an eye on him as it were.

Hal doesn’t like this one little bit, but agrees on this condition to save his ship. A partnership, as they say, is formed. It was quite enjoyable to read the development these two characters undergo together. At first they are awkward, being thrown together, but as things develop, and they get out of more and more situations together, their friendship blossoms.

The story then proceeds in a rather linear fashion, until we discover that the shipment Hal has to pick up is far more than he bargained for. Hal and Clunk will be tested to the limit. But I won’t say any more about the plot, as that would spoil it for those who may want to pick up a copy, and there are a few surprises along the way.

I will say first and foremost that the book was thoroughly enjoyable for me. There was certainly humour, not laugh out loud humour, (although I did chuckle at some of Clunk’s antics, especially when he was cleaning out the cargo bay). Rather, I read the book with a smile constantly planted on my face.

I found that Clunk reminded me of Kryten from the BBC TV series Red Dwarf, although he’s not as finicky. Which is generally a good thing. However, I felt that he sometimes does “scene steal,” which probably indicates that the character was a joy to write. He was certainly a joy to read, and did make an excellent sidekick to the more random, disorganised Hal Spacejock.

The adventures that these two get up to while trying to pick up and then deliver their notorious cargo are very interesting indeed. From landing the Black Gull, to refuelling her, to just trying to get from one place to another, everything was an adventure. Everything was always more complicated than it first seemed it would be. The reader expects to be taken on an adventure, and in that regard the book didn’t fail.

Hal Spacejock, amazingly, is available in general bookstores here in Australia. Something rare for a local author in this country I must say. Being published by the Fremantle Arts Centre Press would most certainly have something to do with it. The FACP is one of the few publishers here in Western Australia that encourage and support authors who live here, and the book is available under the Penguin imprint everywhere else. Most other Western Australian authors have to go outside Australia to be published. A sad but true state of the publishing world here.

So, in closing, Hal Spacejock is an enjoyable book that is fast paced, action-packed, and amusing, with characters that are believable and that the reader can actually care about, especially towards the end. Even the bumbling Hal redeems himself admirably and is the character that changes the most throughout.

Oh, and I can’t finish without saying that a minor robot character was named Clyde. That made me laugh! Recommended, for a nice, light, easy read that will surely have you smiling. And there’s more to look forward to in the sequel Hal Spacejock: Second Course.

Copyright © 2006 by Clyde Andrews

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