Space Captain Smith by Toby Frost
In the 25th Century the British Space Empire faces the gathering menace of the evil ant-soldiers of the Ghast hive, hell-bent of galactic domination and the extermination of all humanoid life.
Back in the dim and distant past when I was at university, I was introduced to the scoundrel that is Harry Flashman. Created by George McDonald Fraser, in a series of books collectively known as The Flashman Papers, dear old Flashy rode rough shod over the 19th century leaving his imaginary mark over a plethora of genuine historic events. Flashman was written as a scoundrel, a cur, a cheat, a bounder, a thief and a coward. As I’m sure you can imagine I was immediately entranced by this self confessed anti-hero. So convincing and well researched were these novels some critics believed Flashman to be a real life historical figure.
To me, the language used in each novel was a constant delight. Phrases like “damn your eyes sir! I am a British officer” were a joy and I devoured every story I could get my hands on. The covers of each novel always displayed Flash as the very epitome of English Victorian gentleman. Flashman always appeared very dapper with a smirk or sneer dancing across his face.
Why then all this discussion of Flashman? When I first saw the cover of Space Captain Smith by Toby Frost my eyes lit up. I started to wistfully daydream about what looked like Flashman in outer space. There was a definite similarity between the covers of the Flashman novels and Space Captain Smith. I felt this could only be considered a good omen. The idea of the British Empire in space sounded like a top notch idea. When I read the blurb on the back of the book I was again pleased to discover the main protagonist’s name, Isambard Smith. In my opinion any steampunk/sci-fi novel based on the concept of the British Empire in the 25th century requires that it meet the following criteria, firstly the lead should have a splendid moustache and secondly they should be named after one of Britain’s greatest civil engineers.
At first glance the character of Smith is similar to Flashman. Both embody the pomposity of Imperial Britain but are steadfast in their ideals. Smith, however, is much less the anti-hero than Flashman. Some of his ideas regarding women are a trifle archaic but this is played for laughs and he is nowhere near the cad that Flashman is. Smith stumbles around the galaxy and can’t understand why anyone would not want to be part of the Empire he loves. He comes across as a good natured ass that is always keen to do the ‘proper’ thing irrespective of the consequences.
Smith’s crew on the space freighter John Pym are also engaging characters. Polly Carveth, the ship’s pilot, is an android on the run. Her back story has a direct nod towards Blade Runner and the author obviously had a lot of fun writing that. The other member of the crew is Suruk a Predator like alien warrior who is overly keen on disembowelment and beheading.
‘This will be unpleasant,’ he said
‘Lots of enemies?’
The novel features a lot of this kind of banter. I felt that this back and forth between the characters helped to flesh out the meat of the narrative. The story has some genuinely funny moments and I found myself laughing out loud on a number of occasions. I should stress how rare an event this is when it comes to reading a novel, I often smile but don’t tend to laugh aloud. There are a lot of nice pop culture references and any novel that mentions Skegness gets an A+ as far as I am concerned.
Smith and his crew are tasked with escorting a young woman from one side of the galaxy to the other. Needless to say, there are various species that are not keen for them to accomplish their task. With enemies on all sides and nowhere left to turn, it’s up to Space Captain Smith to save the day.
There are currently two sequels available to this novel – God Emperor of Didcot and The Wrath of the Lemming Men. Based on my experience with Space Captain Smith I hope to check them out soon, and that there will be many more to come.