Our story centers on freighter pilot Hal Spacejock, owner (for the time being) of the rusty old space freighter known as the Black Gull. Threatened by a rather persistent debt collector and his robot enforcer, Hal takes a job for local business magnate Walter Jerling and picks up a robot co-pilot, Clunk, in the bargain. However, it turns out delivering a load of robot parts is more difficult than anticipated, especially when Jerling's main business rivals are out to steal Hal's cargo. Hal, Clunk, and the ever-faithful Navcom must go through a number of challenges to get their cargo delivered and get the all-important payday. While this could have made an entertaining and interesting story, the story just didn't work for me on a number of levels.
The main problem was I didn't really like Hal Spacejock as a character and I was left with serious questions about his mental abilities based on some of his actions. For example, Hal assumes the job involving robot parts is a cover for stolen goods, which is simply not true. Granted, there are some rather less than legal aspects to this particular job, but Hal's "intuition" about the job is dead wrong. Considering the numerous other jobs Hal has turned down for various reasons I'm left wondering if he's just inventing elaborate excuses for not taking legitimate jobs or is just plain dumb. Either way it didn't make me like him as a character. Add on top of that his total lack of abilities as a pilot, which almost gets him killed, and Hal's almost complete reliance on Clunk and Navcom to save his ass and I ended up wishing something bad would happen to Hal.
I ended up really liking Clunk, the robot copilot, who did a lot of the problem-solving for Hal's situations. Also he can actually fly and land a ship, which I considered to be a definite mark in his favor over Hal. As I mentioned before, throughout the book a lot of the problems Hal and Clunk encounter are largely solved by Clunk (or the navigational computer's) ingenuity. Hal occasionally shows some initiative and comes up with two or three solutions to the many, many challenges he has to face, but for the most part it's other people. That is, when the problems aren't being solved by miraculous coincidences, which was another major problem I had. The simple fact that Hal and Clunk get saved by more than a generous handful of fortunate coincidences kind of annoyed me. I understand that a lot of fiction involves plenty of coincidences, but the sheer number was enough to strain belief for me.
Overall, I found Hal Spacejock to be a mediocre book at best, but maybe it was just because I disliked Hal as a character so much. I felt that things worked out too neatly for Hal in the end and he had none of the dash or charm of the other space freighter captains that I know and love in the genre. I don't know if the other books about Hal in this series are any better, but I think I would have serious trouble summoning the interest to read them.