RogerBW's Blog

End of Empires, Toby Frost 26 June 2021

2014 humorous science fiction, fifth in the Isambard Smith series. The Lemming men are invading the British Space Empire, and must be stopped!

It's a little more fragmentary than before: there's the last days of colonial India bit, the Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now bit, the Zulu bit, because dragging out any one of those ideas to the full length of the book would make it drag. So instead we get a sort of series of short stories with occasional links between them.

‘We are the greatest empire in space,' Miss Chigley resumed, ‘but not when we forget our moral fibre. Vigilance is all! In our struggle for justice, we must purge our very language of subversive jargon foreign to the cause. For what is a panini but a cheese toastie with added bourgeois sentimentality? What is a cup-cake but a fairy cake that has appropriated too much icing?'

And this works. The big plots in this series have always mostly been an excuse for the small jokes, like the overcomplicated board game (admittedly Tom Holt did it better in Who's Afraid of Beowulf?) or the bit with the robot gangsters (Rom and Ram Crane).

‘This used to be a nice neighbourhood,' Rom growled. ‘You could leave your front door unlocked and all. But now I'm in it.'

There is some degree of progress too: Smith starts to notice how his empire is crumbling in spite of all the brave words, and Carveth, much to everyone's surprise including her own, finds something to believe in. Suruk, of course, remains Suruk.

‘Lemming men, you have disgraced the noble art of combat. You have murdered, pillaged and rampaged across space, without mercy or style. You threaten my people, as well as all others, and now you lay claim to the relics of our champion. Your crimes are many, but there is only one punishment: community service.' He grinned. ‘Just joking. It's death.'

But by this point in the series you probably have a fairly decent idea of what it's about, and you've either kept reading enthusiastically or given up already. And I've carried on to book five, so I guess I'm in the former group. I do wish that Frost would use more of the subtlety of which he's clearly capable; I mean, bum jokes are all very well, but I could do with more like this:

He found Rhianna and Susan in a drawing room, looking like guerrillas lost in a Jane Austen novel. ‘These dials show power output,' Susan said, tapping the beam gun on the chaise lounge beside her. ‘Ohms, Watts, Bechdels…'

Don't expect more than it offers, but if you're in the mood for what it offers that can be just fine.

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Previous in series: A Game of Battleships | Series: Chronicles of Isambard Smith

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