Home > Book Reviews, Fremantle Press > Book Review – Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch by Simon Haynes

Book Review – Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch by Simon Haynes

“Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch” is the fourth installment in Simon Haynes’ series, and it’s another strong showing for Hal, Clunk and co. For the uninitiated, Hal Spacejock is an interstellar freight trader running cargo to and fro, but he rarely has enough credits for a nice meal, or a change of clothes for that matter. Clunk is Hal’s robot sidekick, and much of the humour stems from the banter between them. There’s nothing very futuristic about the “Hal Spacejock” series, but what it lacks in gee-whiz it makes up for in laugh out loud.

“No Free Lunch” sees Hal and Clunk arriving on the planet of Dismolle (a pun on dismal perhaps?), which resembles nothing if not a Mandurah retirement village, replete with tea cosies and knitted sweaters and whatever else. There isn’t much crime on Dismolle, so little in fact that the Peace Force consists of a brain-dead robot and a beautiful young recruit by the name of Harriet Walsh. Hal thinks it’s his lucky day, and it is: for once, something goes right for him from the start, and Ms Walsh invites him to dinner.

Unfortunately, dinner is to be served in the presence of Miranda Morgan, a high-profile Dismollean who wants Hal to take a shipment of goods to the planet Forzen for her. Harriet Walsh and Miranda Morgan loathe one another, so it’s only natural that Harriet should end up with an assignment to Forzen herself. Somehow, Clunk has been conned into carving the roast. This is exactly how the “Hal Spacejock” novels work. The plot is cleverly engineered so that the lives of seemingly unrelated characters are thrown together in the most unlikely of circumstances which, on reflection, seem perfectly logical. And, of course, trouble is never far away.

“No Free Lunch” offers us the kind of helter-skelter storyline we’ve come to expect from this series. There’s a familiar-faced stowaway, a lecherous rival for Harriet Walsh’s affections, a mine complete with some very unusual miners, and even a murder mystery to boot. Much of the action takes place on the very cold planet of Forzen (ah…Frozen?). Haynes sketches in just enough detail so that the reader can picture the setting, but not so much as to slow the story down. Settings in Spacejock novels are usually rather generic anyway. Like in Star Wars, where you’ve got the Desert planet, the City planet, the Jungle planet etc., in “No Free Lunch” we have the Dismal planet, the Frozen planet and so on.

Haynes has cranked up the ‘ribald meter’ a notch or two as well, and there are plenty of coy sexual references and double entendres. You could hardly call this racy, however; it’s all good, clean fun. Things tend to go wrong for Hal Spacejock most of the time, and the situation in “No Free Lunch” is often grim indeed. A common theme in these books is for Hal’s ship, the Volante, to be stolen or be otherwise out of action, and for Hal and Clunk to be chased around by gangs of thugs and other shifty characters. “No Free Lunch” follows this pattern, but takes the sense of danger a little further than previous books.

This sense of danger is important, because after four Spacejock novels, the reader cares for Hal and Clunk’s welfare about all else. In addition, “No Free Lunch” develops the character of Harriet Walsh in a way that earlier Spacejock novels didn’t. Another review mentioned the possibility of adding Miss Walsh as a regular character in the series. While it is true that Harriet is the best developed of the secondary characters in the Spacejock series so far, and while I can understand that readers might desire to give Hal a ‘happy ending,’ I think much of the humour comes from Hal’s bachelorhood. But it remains to be seen what role Miss Harriet might play in future Spacejock novels. And this is where the Spacejock series rises above most humorous SF: it manages to be amusing and genuinely warm at the same time.

One of the best things about this series is that each book stands alone as an individual story. Therefore, it is quite possible to start with “Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch” without having read the earlier books. There are references to the earlier books, of course, but nothing essential. However, you might find that upon completing this book, you feel the urge to read books 1, 2 and 3. The Hal Spacejock series is highly amusing and addictive fare, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone.

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