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Book Review – Hal Spacejock: Second Course by Simon Haynes

The story of how Simon Haynes’ “Hal Spacejock” series of novels came to be published by Fremantle Press is an inspiring one. Haynes’ first Spacejock novel was self published (by Bowman Publishing) in 2003, as were the second and third in the series. Haynes did all his own PR in those early years, getting copies into bookstores and making an appearance each year at Perth’s science fiction convention, Swancon. Perseverance finally paid off when Fremantle Press (not usually a publisher of science fiction) saw fit to re-issue the “Hal Spacejock” novels for a wider audience.

It’s not hard to see why Haynes’ books have finally reached their intended market. Hal Spacejock: Second Course is entertaining, amusing and refreshingly unpretentious. Hal Spacejock is a bit of a bum, but a bum in possession of a fast spaceship, the Volante. His robot sidekick, Clunk, provides much amusing banter as Spacejock tries to make a fast buck in the unfriendly world of the future. While this book is the second in the series, it is not intended as a ‘sequel’ as such. It did not seem to matter that I am yet to read the first book in the series. This book is very much in the tradition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (one of the characters is even called Dent) and Red Dwarf.

Hal Spacejock: Second Course follows a seemingly simple formula. Conversations are full of jokes and handed with a light hand. Things go from bad, to worse, to worse still. And there’s plenty of gratuitous action: explosions, gun battles, and robotic hijinx. Haynes is a skillful writer, but he never forgets that he is writing to entertain. Descriptive scenes are particularly well done, conjuring just enough detail to keep the reader ‘in the loop,’ but not so much as to bog the story down. In short, Haynes knows what he’s doing. The plot is complicated but not convoluted, and the femme fatale, Sonya Polarov, is amusingly manipulative.

There’s nothing particularly futuristic about this book. It’s almost an old-fashioned future, one with space traders, clunky robots (pun intended) and handwritten letters. This is a refreshing change from the post-cyberpunk trying-to-be-cool futures we get so often in SF these days. Hal Spacejock: Second Course is a book that knows its place in the SF tradition, but that doesn’t make it derivative. I will be interested to see whether Haynes can maintain the spark and verve of this novel throughout the rest of the series.

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