I’m killing two birds with one stone on this one. Robert Kroese’s Out of the Soylent Planet is my pick for this year’s Planetary Awards in the long-form category.
On paper, Kroese’s Rex Nihilo series seems like the last thing I’d enjoy—a snarky, self-aware, often parodic science fiction series featuring a sleazy protagonist whom I’ve described as a cross between Jon Lovitz’s Tommy Flannagan character and Zapp Brannigan. But the strength of Kroese’s writing and his sense of humor accomplish the herculean task of keeping his premise from descending into obnoxious twee. While the first book, “Starship Grifters”, cleaves dangerously close to Star Wars parody, the sequel, “Aye, Robot” abandoned much of the familiar plot beats and moved away from parody, delving further into the realm of satire.
I was worried, then, that “Out of the Soylent Planet” might return to the safer realms of parody when it began with a direct send-up of New Hope’s opening, with SASHA standing in for 3P0. And it was a prequel, no-less!
My fears were quickly allayed, however, as Out of the Soylent Planet progressed rapidly into new territory, establishing the relationship between SASHA and Rex, further developing SASHA’s nature as a near-sentient AI without retreading the first two books, and using some wild and exciting set-ups to do so.
Out of the Soylent Planet is self-aware, and many of the characters are dangerously (wrong) genre savvy, but Kroese handles all of this exceptionally well. He uses Rex to explore the nature of the picaresque hero over the course of the series while even hanging a lampshade as other characters discuss what qualifies one to be a lovable rogue. Like Obi-Wan’s villainy, it all comes down to “a certain point of view.”
While Out of the Soylent Planet is a prequel, it is written in such a way that it could stand alone to a reader new to the series but does not belabor descriptions and exposition which readers of the previous books might be familiar with. The first installment suffered a bit from the “Only Sane Man” trope with SASHA playing the straight-man to the insanity of the entire universe. While there are plenty of mixed up characters in Out of the Soylent Planet, much of that burden is taken off SASHA’s shoulders, giving her a few odd but competent and reliable characters to play off of. This lets her character have some fun/self-indulgence without risking having the world fall to pieces around her. The only weakness it has is an absence of Pepper Melange. Then again, part of what Pepper brought to the stories was that sense that there were people in the universe besides SASHA who were competent (who were not stark-raving mad or lunatic idiots), and by giving SASHA and Rex other ‘straight men’ to play off of, her absence will not be felt by new readers so much as by existing fans of the character.
Even if you haven’t been reading Kroese’s Rex Nihilo Series, this one is worth picking up and diving into.
Just a reminder to readers and other book bloggers: You too can nominate for the Planetary Awards. As a publisher, Cirsova is abstaining from nominating in the short form category, but there’s been a lot of love so far for Schuyler Hernstrom’s “The First American.” All you have to do to nominate a work is post on your blog what you think should receive a Planetary Award and why. Feel free to nominate something we published in 2017.