You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo (book review).

December 28, 2021 | By | Reply More

TwiceFar Station sits at the edge of the known universe where trade routes meet. The perfect place to open a restaurant. Niko Larsen, former Admiral of the Holy Hive Mind, opened the restaurant with her squad to get away from the continual wars of conquest, to become regular people again. The arrival of an intergalactically famous food critic could make or break their dream. A large, mysterious package isn’t going to get in the way of that. Even if there is a person frozen in stasis inside. It can wait. Portents of doom and a spiral fate? They can also wait.

But then an explosion rips TwiceFar apart and the only escape is a rich playboy and his bioengineered spaceship.

The reward for a job well done is another job. In a Science Fiction narrative, it is a very bad thing to be an honourably retired military person if you are looking for a quiet life. Jack O’Neill of Stargate. Korben Dallas of The Fifth Element. Characters who have done their stint of saving people and serving their planet and yet aren’t allowed to be left alone just yet. One last mission. It doesn’t matter if you were the green recruit that saved the day through dumb luck or the troublemaker that bucked the system. At some point in your military career, you came through against the odds and now they want you to do it again. Loyal pals at your side.

Captain Niko Larsen is also known as the Ten-Hour Admiral. Promoted to get peace talks going and demoted for letting the peace succeed. Too capable for the expansionist regime of the Holy Hive Mind. Perhaps that’s why she was able to use a loophole to leave the service and take her squad along with her. Niko’s time with the Holy Hive Mind and the inadvertent peace underscore the entirety of ‘You Sexy Thing’ by Cat Rambo but just as the Holy Hive Mind tries to get her back in things take an explosive turn away from that nugget of future plot. I wanted to like Niko. I just didn’t have the chance beyond first coffee date generalities as at every turn I was hit by flashback cutscene, explosion or pirates.

Describing this novel out loud is like trying to describe a long running, massively over the top soap opera that happens to be in space. You just sound like a bit of a crazy person. There is just so much going on. There are multiple characters from multiple planets who are different alien species, who all have backstories that feed into where they are right now. Because of this, the novel is slow to get going. There are multiple points of view and several flashback sequences before we get 100 pages in and that is just the past. The present has so much going on as well. Internal politics of one empire plus galactic empire politics plus the random ‘games’ of an unknown able elder race. There’s a magical prophecy. Ghosts. Space pirates. Vendettas and all in less than 400 pages.

Cat Rambo has written about ‘You Sexy Thing’ describing it as a military sci-fi that became a space opera inspired by hopepunk, one of these new, finely sliced genres of Science Fiction and was created to be in direct opposition to grimdark. Hopepunk wants to show that people can be inherently good and that positivity and kindness do not equal weakness. Grimdark gives us characters of greyish morality where everyone is inherently bad.

While there is the positivity of fighting for a found family and the concept of home, I’m sceptical about placing ‘You Sexy Thing’ as hopepunk. Perhaps when the rest of the series Rambo promises is released, I will change my tune but, as a standalone novel, ‘You Sexy Thing’ does not give me the sense of political rebellion and fighting ‘the man’ that ‘punk’ implies. All of the characters are just people with motivations both selfish and noble depending on your perspective. I would hesitate to call our protagonist, Niko, inherently good just as I would hesitate to call the antagonist inherently evil. While the crew works together for their shared dreams of surviving kidnapping by pirates, destruction of space stations and opening their restaurant, their choices did not leave me with a sense of an innate capacity to choose good in all creatures. It just showed me people fighting for their found family which is not dissimilar from other books from ‘Lord Of The Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ to ‘The Expanse’.

There’s ‘leaving the audience wanting more’ and then there’s ‘leaving them feeling like a few chapters got lost on the train’. ‘You Sexy Thing’ starts slow, which is understandable when you have a new galaxy and a cast of characters to introduce but holy flashback, Batman!, once we get into the meat of the story, it’s a deluge of one thing after another. I wanted some padding out. Perhaps some backstory could have been flashbacked to us further into the book. Instead, there were so many things happening that I didn’t really worry about the crew’s survival. At all! I just knew the majority would get through because they were the ones with the most screen time.

‘You Sexy Thing’ feels like a longer novel cut down to size to suit genre expectations. I hope they release a ‘director’s cut’ version with those missing pages back in. That would make ‘You Sexy Thing’ a more substantial read and one I would more heartily recommend. As it is, this novel is fine. It hits the beats of a slightly comic space opera, has interesting characters in an interesting world and is well-written. It’s fine, but it’s not going on my Christmas shopping list. Perhaps the sequel will. Perhaps the sequel will be more focused with the need for explanations over with.

‘You Sexy Thing’ is a hyperactive frolic through space but also has torture and murder, as well as a faint whiff of tyrannical empire coming in the distance. As Chambers has mentioned working on book three, I have hopes of the series being greater than the sum of its parts. The light-hearted style will appeal to fans of Beck Chambers’ ‘A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet’ while fans of Tanya Huff’s ‘Valor’ series will enjoy a strong female military leader in Niko.

LK Richardson

December 2021

(pub: TOR, 2021. 304 page hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), £19.35 (UK). ISBN: 976-1-25025-930-0)

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Category: Books, Scifi

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