Chris McCrudden is slowly carving out his own niche in sci-fi with his space comedy Battlestar Suburbia series, and the third entry Sashay to the Centre of the Earth, brings the action down to Earth; way, way down into the Earth.
In McCrudden’s universe the “war with the machines” was less Terminator-style and more about humans being outsmarted by smart-phones and office equipment. We’re not dealing with killer androids and emotionless cyber-creatures, we’re talking about smart-speakers with too many opinions and flustered photocopiers.
With the war over, and humanity and the robots making peace, the robot Prime Minister of the Machine Republic, Fuji Itsu, is drowning in political infighting, and literally drowning when she falls through the crumbling concrete of the discarded planet and down into the ocean’s depths (printers were never designed to swim). Meanwhile, on the Battlestar Suburbia, acting First Minister Janice is trying to keep humanity alive with the help of a cabal of beauticians-turned-black-marketeers. And that’s when the sentient breadmaker (now in the body of a drone), Pamasonic Teffal, arrives on Suburbia with a secret mission…
To say this universe is camp is an understatement, Sashay to the Centre of the Earth takes endless genre tropes and clichés and twists them around in the best traditions of a Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchet. The closest comparison I could make would be the long-running British sit-com Red Dwarf, with a few more consumer goods thrown in.
Your enjoyment is likely dependent on the level of your immersion in British pop culture, as much of what is being played with here is a kitschy, camp version of modern Britain. It’s an interplanetary Carry On… film. Brand names are accosted and enhanced at every turn in the manner of classic drag names, lolling the reader into a non-stop sense of amusement. The book is like being patted on the head by a drag queen at story time.
While the names and visuals make for an endless LOL-fest, it would all fall apart if the story and stakes weren’t there. McCrudden knows his sci-fi and adventure stories well and even stripped of the punnery, the story here is still a fun adventure. There are secret missions, alien civilizations (of a sort) and two worlds in a Cold War, set against a backdrop of ecological decline and a fight for survival. While the tone is light, the story has enough weight to make you care and keep on reading.
Sashay to the Centre of the Earth is an easy jump-on point for those unfamiliar with the Battlestar Suburbia series, and a nice bit of light relief from the endless post-apocalyptic stories. For a different form of ‘light relief’ follow McCrudden on Twitter; he’s not above a thotty bit of book-promotion! If you need a bright, silly read to distract you from the dumpster fire of reality, this is well worth checking out.
By Chad Armstrong
With thanks to Netgalley for the advance review copy.