2 out of 4 stars
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Galaxy Quest meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in The Geeks Conquer the Universe by Keith Mackie, a satirical romp through science fiction land.
Kevin Macleod of Earth is the author of the popular online novel Space Rangers of Galaxy 4. Unbeknownst to him, however, the galactic empire of another universe has discovered the book and realized it bears a striking resemblance to the empire’s conflict with opposing forces. Convinced this Kevin is a spy, the empire dispatches agents to bring him into custody.
And so, Kevin, along with his geek buddies Craig and Alan, are abducted by aliens. The farther along they get in their abduction, the more Kevin and his friends realize how much everything resembles Kevin’s book. It turns out they were somehow transported to an alternate universe where Space Rangers of Galaxy 4 is reality. As familiar with science fiction as the three friends are, they know the only way to get home is to finish living the book. Can they get to the end without running into too many flat characters or bad plot devices?
When I picked this book up to review, the description read “It is written by a science fiction geek for other science fiction geeks.” Truer words were never spoken. The Geeks Conquer the Universe is awash in references and in-depth discussions of Star Wars, Star Trek, Battle Star Galactica, Blake’s 7, Dune, and many other science fiction stories. As someone with a working knowledge of science fiction tropes, I was able to follow the references and discussions, smiling or chuckling at ones I’m more familiar with. However, I don’t feel the same would be true for someone without at least a vague familiarity with science fiction. Kevin and his friends spend a good chunk of the book comparing the events to this movie or that TV show. While fans of the referenced stories might find this endearing, those who know little to nothing about them would be lost. I am unfamiliar with Blake’s 7, for example, and only my basic knowledge of how science fiction works allowed me to understand the parts of this book drawn from this show.
Mackie’s portrayal of the “geek guy” had me torn. At times, Kevin, Craig, and Alan reminded me fondly of my guy friends from college and their good-natured debates about their latest fandom interest. I was a bit disturbed at Mackie’s lack of female characters, though. I, as well as some of my other female friends, often joined the guys in their pursuit of fandom understanding. The only female character of note in The Geeks Conquer the Universe is Princess Zarona, who exists to fulfill the geeky guy’s fantasy of the hot alien princess. At this point, the guys started to feel more like caricatures than characters. Kevin and his friends are aching stereotypes of the (often fictional) geek guy who goes to a bar and talks about Star Trek with his buddies and then, unsurprisingly, is incapable of picking up a woman. So, instead, he dreams about his Zarona equivalent. I suppose this depiction is humorously accurate in a way, but it fell flat for me. As a woman who can quote several passages from the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio show from memory, I would have liked a couple of girls to be in on the debating action and for women to be shown as more than unattainable sex symbols.
The satirical side of this book was done well and very amusing. At the beginning, we meet Emperor Theosus Pindar Brotus Thar Dax Ottomire the Third (or Theo to his friends), who leaves all the work of running the empire to his prime minister, as Theo hates the job. Later, we are introduced to the three intelligence branches of the galactic empire (external, internal, and military) and how the three are more interested in keeping the other two from getting anything done than actually getting anything done, themselves. We also find out that the galactic empire is a misnomer. There are, in fact, several galactic empires that each lord over a different percentage of the universe. They are all at war, trying to establish themselves as the true galactic empire. Like many of Earth’s governments, the universe in Mackie’s book suffers from a bad case of dysfunctional politics. I was pulled right into the satire, except for the very few times where the universe was outright said to be just like Earth’s dysfunction. Otherwise, the subtlety outside those moments was fantastic.
There were a couple of other things that weakened this book a bit for me. First, we are constantly reminded we’re in a universe based on Kevin’s book. Once this was established, I kind of thought Kevin might think in the words he actually wrote. If Kevin remembered his descriptions when something occurred and then compared or contrasted the words to the experience, that would have added a neat layer to the story. It also would have been a creative way to keep up the notion that we’re in his book. There’s also a tremendous amount of cursing from both humans and aliens. Many books I’ve read with a cast of male geek characters employ a lot of cursing. Maybe I wasn’t in the right geek crowd in college, but my friends didn’t drop the f-bomb anywhere near as frequently as these characters do. Since this language is common in geek books, it must stem from somewhere, but all it does for me is weaken the dialogue and characters. A few well-placed swears is okay, but when it’s used with great liberty, the language loses its effect.
This was a tough decision, but I rate The Geeks Conquer the Universe 2 out of 4 stars. The satire and interesting plot twists keep me from rating this book 1 star, but after a while, the plot twists started to feel a bit contrived. This combined with a host of errors lowers my rating from 3 stars. Missing and misspelled words, as well as typos, persisted throughout the book, giving the whole thing a sloppy feel. The geek-talk appeals to me on some level, but there’s just too much of it. Thus, this book’s readership is severely limited. If you aren’t a die-hard science fiction fan who knows either your fandoms or tropes like the back of your laser-wielding hand, this book probably won’t be of interest. Even if you do fall into that category, this book seems geared very much toward guys. The book’s description says this is a mash-up, and that’s not a lie. For me, it leaned too heavily on other science fiction stories to really stand on its own. If that’s what you’re looking for, though, this will not disappoint.
The Geeks Conquer the Universe
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