RogerBW's Blog

God Emperor of Didcot, Toby Frost 17 December 2016

2008 humorous science fiction, second in the series. Captain Isambard Smith of the British Empire in space is sent to the Didcot system, where a revolutionary movement threatens the Empire's supply of tea.

Scientists appeared on the screen, working in a cavernous laboratory. "These are boffins. Boffins such as these have proven, through science, that the addition of cow's milk to tea causes a chemical synthesis, producing enzymes conducive to high levels of moral fibre. And we all know how essential moral fibre is in strengthening the morale, wisdom, bravery and downright decency of citizens everywhere."

Frost continues to do what worked before, with a relatively straight overall plot (yes, all right, tea as the source of moral fibre for the Empire, but it's played out in practice as a serious matter of coup and counter-revolution) and comedic small details.

"My humans here will transport me to the world of Urn, and I shall confront this fool and chop off his head."

"No," said W. "If the Grand Hyrax is to be stopped, it must be done with subtlety. The potential for civil unrest is too great.'"

"I could creep up on him first," Suruk suggested. "Then chop his head off. How about that?"

There's still rather too much puerile humour for my taste, and the density of good stuff has perhaps dropped a little from book one, but there was enough to keep me happy. The Dune parody falls a little flat – it's been done, as early as 1984 by National Lampoon and very effectively by Dave Langford – but it does at least allow for the introduction of the Sauceress. Other parodies include special forces types ("wasn't here, don't exist, pleased to meet you"), a wannabe James Bond:

He raised an eyebrow and blew out smoke. "The only question is, Miss Carveth, are you going to be trouble to me?"

Carveth grimaced. "Which is more platonic: yes or no?"

and even H. P. Lovecraft:

Smith frowned. "It becomes rather incomprehensible now. Batrachian foulness … Ia! … it cannot be … All-consuming horror … Pencil getting blunt … And that's it."

Frost can never quite seem to settle on whether his British Empire is a brutal colonialist dictatorship or a shining beacon of freedom, and nobody seems to notice that there's any contradiction between the various values they claim to espouse. On the other hand there's some surprisingly effective character development for the alien warrior Suruk, who returns to his homeworld to whip up an army only to find that his people have moved on without him:

"Underwriting? What is that?" Suruk growled. "Surely some still remember the old ways. What about Hunar Blackblade, Margath the Despoiler, Azman the Vile?"

"Despoiler Blackblade Vile? Solicitors."

"Orgak the Bone-Cruncher?"

"You mean Orgak the Number-Cruncher. Accountant. He works with Dad."

"Azranash the Pain-bringer?"

"Dentistry."

"That is something, I suppose."

At the moment of course I'm particularly sensitive to the way people happily support movements and leaders that are obviously going to be bad for them, and there's some surprising subtlety in that portrayal here, especially considering that the revolutionary leader says things like "remember, people of Urn, anyone who co-operates and donates his more nutritious relatives to the new order will be spared".

I could just have done with fewer bum jokes. Followed by Wrath of the Lemming-men.

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  1. Posted by Shimmin at 10:32am on 08 January 2017

    I actually picked this one up first - it was on sale for a quid and the title had me.

    As you say, I'd prefer a slightly more restrained hand with the lowbrow elements, but I've enjoyed the concept and the series. I'm still trying to work out how it could be best adapted as an RPG (also, I'd have to persuade my players to read books instead of watching TV).

    A mashup of this and Jody Lynn Nye's "Imperium" series is somewhere on my wishlist too. Worth a look if you've not seen it.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 07:08pm on 08 January 2017

    It is a very fine title.

    I'm very bad at humorous RPGs (that particular sort of improvisation takes a lot of out me), so I usually end up playing ridiculous situations straight - which might suit this sort of setting quite well. (It's very important to me that characters maintain their personalities rather than being batted about to do whatever's funniest at that moment.)

    I've read (and reviewed here) the first Imperium book, but not got round to the second yet. See "All book reviews" at bottom right.

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