Thursday, February 21, 2013

Smallworld, by Dominic Green

I recently picked up Smallworld for my Kindle and gave it a read and ended up enjoying it. I'd definitely recommend my readers interested in oddball science fiction to go check it out. Smallworld follows the adventures of the Reborn-in-Jesus family who lives on the microplanet Mount Ararat with a strange recluse known to the Reborn-in-Jesus family as Uncle Anchorite. Together they must face corrupt mining companies, dangerous convicted criminals, and freebooting tax pirates from threatening the mostly peaceful life on Mount Ararat. If that wasn't bad enough the interstellar government "of the people", which toppled the Dictator of Mankind, may be no better than the government they replaced! Overall it was a fun read for me despite a couple of small issues.

My two largest concerns were the number of characters and the brevity of the narratives contained in Smallworld. In the case of the characters the Reborn-in-Jesus family has a number of biological, as well as adopted, children who have a bewildering number of names such as Only-God-Is-Perfect, God's-Wounds, Pitch-Not-Thy-Tent-Unto-Sodom, and Measure-of-Barley. With in many cases there being no real distinguishable difference between the characters I felt kind of like the first time I met all the dwarves in the Hobbit. I could remember Thorin, Bilbo, and Bombur (the fat one) but the rest were just extra characters who hung around while the main characters took a lot of the focus. Perhaps it's a matter of laziness on my own part as a reader, but when there are a ton of characters with no real distinguishing characteristics for much of the book it becomes difficult for me to keep track of all of them.

The other major issue I had with this story was its formatting of several distinct short stories. I will admit that the only real issue this caused for me was I felt that once I got the grasp of the plot of a short story it would suddenly be over and I had to start understanding another short story all over again. A minor frustration, but nothing that really took away from the book. I definitely think that with the concept that Green created, a tiny world that's little more than twenty kilometers in diameter, works better as a series of short stories with entertaining situations. Making it a single, novel-length narrative wouldn't have been able to explore as many possibilities and create as many humorous situations.

A lot of the humor in this book is more subtle satire than laugh-out-loud slapstick. I liked the little take-thats at the People's Interstellar Government with an unelected, permanent council that, as I mentioned, seemed to be possibly even worse than the "evil" Dictatorship they had supplanted. I also found the idea of a special force of tax collectors who add every shot they fire to your tax account to be both funny and sadly plausible. Of course, it's not chuckles a minute and there are some very tense bits with serial killers on the loose and the mystery of what's really at the center of Mount Ararat. I thought it was a nice collection of science-fiction short stories kind of in the same vein as Red Dwarf but a little more subtle. It's not a very overt humor but it's definitely enjoyable for the thinking reader who doesn't mind a few dirty bits as well.

There is a sequel by Green called Littlestar, but it focuses on a couple of characters I didn't actually like that much (and remembered!) so I don't think I'll be following up with this series. Still, I recommend everyone check out Smallworld and if you want more from Dominic Green be sure to look for him wherever books are sold.

- Kalpar

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