Will Save the Galaxy for Food by Yahtzee Croshaw
Dark Horse Books, February 14th, 2017
A few years ago, I reviewed Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw. It was set within an online multiplayer game or a MMORPG and consciously referencing World of Warcraft — cover art and all. I was neither unimpressed or very impressed with it and it was about the standard for the paperback market of Star Wars, Star Trek and many video game tie-in novels in series like StarCraft, Halo and Gears of War.
My review went on more of a tangent and I had no intention to read more of Croshaw’s novels though I did praise it for what it was. However, after finding Will Save the Galaxy for Food was listed in the catalogue of my library, I decided it might be worth a read to see if his writing had improved in the eight years since his debut publication.
Mogworld was a first-person narrative about an undead, misanthropic, sarcastic and generally cowardly NPC (non-player character) within the online world who, after failing to commit suicide multiple times and generally down on his luck; is thrust into a world changing adventure after meeting an improbably aggressive and sexually-forward female (with red-hair).
Will Save the Galaxy for Food is a first-person narrative about a misanthropic, sarcastic and generally cowardly space pilot who is down on his luck and also somewhat suicidal (he survived his only attempt after finding out his ship’s self-destruct button wasn’t functioning); who is thrust into a world changing adventure after meeting an aggressive and sexually-forward female* (I think she’s blonde this time but the introductory description just describes it as very straight).
The novels both have a different premise and setting but the characters and much of the narrative don’t differ all that much. Croshaw seems to have attempted to make his mysterious pilot a bit more manly but the gamma oozes through all the same. And I believe it is now unmistakable that both protagonists are in fact the author.
This time, rather than video games, the author seems to have taken inspiration from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Red Dwarf television series (which also had tie-in novels). Croshaw acknowledges that latter’s influence and aptly describes the subgenre as “bums in space” here. There is a good amount of world-building by which I mean: not too much and not too little. Most of it is done with small asides when locations, creatures, rules or any odd thing is brought up. The most important are related to quantum tunneling, a technology which had put most space pilots out of regular work.
The protagonist is contacted by the forward female Warden (her last name) and thrown into a situation where he has to pretend to be the author Jacques McKeown for her mobster employer’s son, Daniel. McKeown has made a very lucrative career out of borrowing the real-life exploits of pilots for his novels and is not well-liked by the pilots (to put it mildly). Daniel’s a big fan though and what Daniel wants, his father (Henderson) gets. This puts the protagonist (who is referred to as McKeown most of the time), Warden and two annoying children (Daniel and his crush Jemima) into a silly little adventure.
There isn’t much to add that won’t be just explaining the plot. While it is similar to Mogworld in many ways, his first novel seemed to be much more than just a concept. The idea for the novel isn’t a bad one but Croshaw doesn’t seem to have had anything but the idea when he started writing and it thus doesn’t really go anywhere. One might say Red Dwarf and the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker series didn’t either but the former was a sitcom and the latter maintained a very consistent level of absurdity throughout so that its lack of direction never seemed to matter. This is decidedly more conventional than either series and so the lack of direction doesn’t work.
Evidence of this can be seen in some very obvious inconsistencies. One is at one point where the protagonist is contacted by United Republic (Earth) security forces and pretends to be dumb to put them off. It doesn’t work but it does seem worth a try. A few chapters later he gets in contacts with a ship that does the same thing and he doesn’t suspect the same trick being played on him — though that’s exactly what I assumed it was. It turns out to be a weird alien called a Zoob which brings us to the next big inconsistency.
Zoobs are little monsters (kind of like viscous versions of the tribbles in Star Trek) that it is explained were once kept as pets. This stopped when money (and therefore food) became scarcer for pilots after which the Zoobs began eating their masters and hijacking their ships (kind of like GELFs in Red Dwarf). Later it is revealed that Zoobs are attracted by blood and not just anything they can eat. How did the pilots not work this out earlier and why were the Zoobs satisfied with the food they were given earlier? They’re even described as cute and adorable when first introduced but are anything but when they are a threat later in the novel. The hostile Zoobs also mark a significant shift in tone with a lot more blood and death than found in the previous two thirds and once again, this is far to conventionally written for this sudden change to work.
Mogworld had a satisfying conclusion but this just runs out of steam and ends more or less where it started. One review I noticed suggested Croshaw became bored with his characters towards the end but I think he simply didn’t know where to take them from the very beginning. It is left open for a sequel and there is one but I’m not at all keen to find out whether the author put more thought into where to take things after reading this.
In short this is a classic case of a good concept that was poorly executed. I don’t think Croshaw is a bad writer but I think he is much better a critic than he is a fiction writer and if this novel is anything to go by — he’s unlikely to get better.
* To be fair, Warden isn’t quite the same as Meryl in Mogworld but at one point does suggest that her and the protagonist should fornicate in order to calm his nerves. This certainly fits within the realm of fantasy but the kind of fantasy that should remain in a puerile male’s head and not the kind generally found in paperback.