Delicious, savory science fiction! It’s admittedly a favorite treat of mine, so I was quite excited to see today’s meal slid out in front of me (that and all I had for breakfast was a thin rice gruel). It promised fascinating science fiction spices mixed with that dry British humor mix. Did it deliver or did it just dry out in the oven?
Before we begin, put your hands over your hearts and recite the Starving Review oath:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible
The first big hurdle when you’re making a sci-fi layer cake is to establish a strong first layer, to set the rules and structure of this particular piece of science fiction. Every sci-fi world has its particular flavors and it’s the consistency of those flavors that help the readers suspend their disbelief for the more futuristic or fantastic elements of the world. Mr. Baker has created a truly fantastic world in Slabscape and he does an excellent job introducing us to it and creating a consistent universe for his characters. Hurdle one is passed!
This well-baked world also supports the comedic aspects of the recipe. There’s a definitely British feel to the whole recipe, that particular sort of dry wit that appeals to my particular sense of humor. Maybe it’s a combination of blatant comedic excess mixed with a strangely firm sensibility to the way Slabscape functions that makes it all work out, but it certainly does work. That may be more important than the whys in this case as humor can be an unquantifiable thing, even for a Starving Reviewer like me.
So our genre mix is well-balanced, creating a solid foundation to layer on the heaps of characterization and creamy smooth plot, right? Well, the chef does serve up some nicely realized characters, a colorful cast that adds quite a bit of zing to the mix. Our main protagonists have a solid arc as they serve as our gateways into the sci-fi world the readers are introduced to, alongside some interestingly eccentric (at least by our 21st century viewpoints) secondary characters. So far so good!
The one stumble that Slabscape hits comes down to the plot. It’s not bad precisely, especially as the focus is obviously on introducing this bizarre future world to the readers, but that focus doesn’t entirely excuse the extremely low stakes of the plot and the rushed non-event conclusion to what might be seen as the big twist conflict introduced in the second-half of the book. With a world being presented as so perfectly safe, I kept expecting the other foot to drop, to show us that feeling of safety might be an illusion or there was something else going on, and that dramatic tension was never realized. Too many of the mysteries and conflicts built up were simply dissolved with little payoff and minimal conflict. It almost has a rushed, ‘we gotta wrap this up to set up the next book’ feel to it at the end, especially as it ends things on a new cliffhanger of sorts.
So what does that mean in the final, full analysis? Slabscape: Reset delivers on an engrossing sci-fi flavor with all the dry notes of comedic wit you might want, but the plot is unfulfilling in the end. However, you’ll enjoy the meal right to dessert, so it is still worth your time to take a bite out of if you enjoy comedic science-fiction meals. It does speak to the strength of the rest of the book’s elements that I am still giving it the rating I am despite the climax’s flat resolution. If you’re a hard sci-fi eater, though, or prefer single serving meals without committing to a series, you might want to avoid this particular repast.
FINAL VERDICT: **** (An engrossing sci-fi flavor with dry notes of comedic wit but the plot has a flat conclusion!)