This is the second book I’ve reviewed by Marcus Alexander Hart. The first was One Must Kill Another, which was a great read and genuinely creeped me out.
But that was serious horror, and this is comedy science fiction. I mean, Stephen King can be a funny guy, sure, but we wouldn’t expect him to write something along the lines of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, right?
Well, Marcus did. In his own way, of course.
Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage, is straight up comedy SF in the best possible way. Crazy aliens, silly misunderstandings, madcap antics, and at the heart of it all a guy who is just trying to keep his head above water, and his homeworld out of deep (and literal) doo doo.
That guy is Leo MacGavin, a lounge entertainer at an American-themed karaoke bar who, after an unlikely series of events (expect to see that happening quite a bit), ends up becoming captain of the galaxy’s most sophisticated cruise ship: the Americano Grande.
So, right off the bat, you learn quite a few things. Humans are the minority in this galaxy. In fact, Leo’s the only human we meet in the whole book. Everyone else is staying put on their new home, Eagle Haven, basically refugees in a larger and more confusing universe.
And yet, human culture has become a bit of a fad among alien races. Sorry, I should say, American culture. Sorry, I should say, “American” culture (with super heavy air quotes). Let’s just say that when humans were discovered in their colony cryoship, our rescuers got our historical records wrong in a way that would make the aliens from Galaxy Quest smack their foreheads in dismay.
The story draws from a number of familiar themes. The captain is in no way qualified to captain. The crew is a bunch of misfits who most of the higher-ups expect to fail (especially the captain), and yet that crew rises to the task… eventually. Their shakedown cruise also holds the future of the cruise company in its hands—not to mention Leo’s home.
A similar setup is used (albeit in a military SF context) in Robert Asprin’s Phule’s Company series—the main difference being that Willard Phule is secretly brilliant, while Leo MacGavin is…. well, he’s doing his best, okay?
Now, if you’ve heard of a TV show called Avenue 5, well, I can tell you firsthand that Marcus really wishes you hadn’t. Both deal with space cruise ships dealing with catastrophe and… well, that’s about all they have in common. But it’s enough that comparisons are going to be made.
Basically, if you saw Avenue 5 and thought the show was mean-spirited and the characters unlikeable, then you’re not alone. It also means you’re probably going to really like Galaxy Cruise. It knows how to have fun, and have characters you care about.
Among them are Commander Rexel Burlock, a tough-as-nails cyborg who has zero confidence in Leo’s abilities—actually, make that a negative number. Low negative fifties at least. Hospitality Chief Kellybean is a feline alien charged with the Sisyphean task of keeping the passengers happy. The security chief, Marshmallow Hug Dilly Dilly, is a giant terrifying arachnid that scares the crap out of everyone it comes across for obvious reasons. The ship’s pilot, Swoosh, is chill to the point where it’s a serious liability—and I was surprised to learn that he wasn’t perpetually stoned.
There’s also a band on board called Murder Blossom, whose lead singer is a plant girl with a talent for mechanics and whose drummer is an obsolete robot who still uses a tape drive. I should point out that the president of the cruise line, Varlowe, has a thing for Leo… it’s how he got in this mess in the first place, really.
Despite the familiar themes, this book managed to surprise me. I thought I had it pegged in terms of how it was all going to end, only to find that it reached that conclusion about 2/3rds of the way through. Then it ends up setting up its subsequent books in a way I did not see coming—though in hindsight it is, again, also a familiar theme. No spoilers, though.
The Galaxy Cruise series is up to 4 books now… well, 4.67 if you include a free ebook novella that comes with the first book, and a short story you get for free by signing up for Marcus’ newsletter. It’s also available in audiobook format, read exceptionally well by TJ Clark (and comes with the novella at the end as a bonus).
If you like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I think you’re going to enjoy taking a ride on the Americano Grande.