RogerBW's Blog

Wrath of the Lemming Men, Toby Frost 29 May 2020

2009 humorous science fiction, third in the Isambard Smith series. The insectoid Ghast have enlisted the lemming-people of Yull as allies in their war against the British Space Empire. Are Isambard Smith and his motley crew really the only people who can save the day?

Of course they are.

"This is HMS Hampson, dreadnought of the British Space Empire. You are to drop your weapons and surrender or we will commence orbital diplomacy."

If you've read either of the prior books, you'll have some idea what to expect: dashing heroism, SF references, and low humour. But at the same time, the jokes still flow from the characters rather than the more usual other way round, and there are some surprisingly subtle touches in between the obvious bits of comedy.

As they descended Smith made out the great civic buildings: The Imperial Planetarium, Chetworth's Domes of Sensorial Delight, The Municipal Orphan Repository, the huge bell on top of the galaxy's largest test-your-strength machine.

We also get Horatius holding the bridge, some cunning and highly violent special operations, and people succeeding because they work out the right thing to do rather than because they have authorially-imposed high levels of skill.

For a moment she wondered if this sort of work might be better done whilst entirely sober. Ah, but wasn't that exactly the sort of thing that the company would expect? Her drinking spree was therefore a cunning ruse to fool them into thinking she was drunk, which admittedly she was, which was in turn a double bluff — or something…

As before, our heroes don't act like characters in a comedy even when they are being silly, and that's one of the keys to making it work. The other is that nobody is the designated butt of all the jokes, the one whom the reader's meant to laugh at; and therefore we can legitimately care about whether the crew can succeed in their mission as well as finding the moment-to-moment stuff funny.

"The truth is that your furry legion came down to the woods today, and you got a big surprise. Not a picnic any more, is it?"

It's not in the Adams style; Hitch-Hiker was all about throwing new ideas at you rather than developing its characters. It's closer to the Pratchett style, but there's more low comedy and no footnotes. But Frost is doing his own thing that isn't a clone of anyone else's approach, and it's working remarkably well.

"I once went to the Imperial People's theme park," he added. "Funfair For The Common Man, it was called."

It's a high-camp romp that isn't pretending to be literature for the ages. Don't start here, though; begin at the beginning, because while you could pick up what's going on from a standing start it's probably more fun to get there the slow way.

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Previous in series: God Emperor of Didcot | Series: Chronicles of Isambard Smith | Next in series: A Game of Battleships

  1. Posted by John P at 09:56pm on 31 May 2020

    Just reading it now and you're right, the humour is getting better. I got book 4 a couple of years back when it was on offer at an airport bookshop. On the strength of that, I bought the set & so I'm binge reading. But they are all giving me the giggles (which annoys the wife!)

    Actually, I want to see the video of "Emma & Verity's Super Jolly Hardcore Pimms Party". ;-)

  2. Posted by John P at 11:24pm on 14 June 2020

    Finished re-reading book 4 and got some of the references I'd missed last time. It features Alice in Wonderland, Honor Harrington, the Clangers, Lord Flashheart & Das Boot. Got to say, Toby Frost's sense of humour is just simply on the same wavelength as mine. Love it.

    The only annoying thing was the Kindle version had formatting problems with line breaks, and a lot of double L's had become one L and a space. Some editor needs to meet the same fate as Lord Prong.

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