Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Review: The Sheriff of Yrnameer by Michael Rubens

So, what happens when a TV funny-man (well, the person behind the TV funny-man) decides that they need to write a hilariously funny science fiction parody for a novel in the spirit of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? In the case of Michael Rubens, a former field producer for The Daily Show and others, and his debut novel The Sheriff of Yrnameer (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound), and to put it kindly, nothing particularly interesting happens at all.

The Sheriff of Yrnameer is the story of Cole, a second-rate galactic criminal who has a really bad day. The enforcer who he owes money is threatening to lay a bunch of parasitic eggs in his head and he hijacks a rival’s ship to escape. This begins his journey across the galaxy to a planet that supposedly doesn’t exist. Along the way Cole grows a heart (kind of), is featured on intergalactic public radio, is relentlessly pursued by Kenneth the egg-laying enforcer, is reunited with the love of his life, and faces yet another enemy from his past.

There’s a problem when trying to emulate someone like Douglas Adams – it’s almost impossible to get even close. One of the things that works best about Adams’ books is how thoroughly British the humor is. Conversely, one of the reasons that Rubens’ effort so thoroughly fails is due to just how American the humor is. Everything has a flippant, consumerism feel about it – sure it’s supposed to, after all much of The Sheriff of Yrnameer is satire – but it just isn’t funny (or at least it isn’t funny to me). Yes, when the title of your book has the word ‘Yrnameer’ in it, then it is appropriate to make a joke about hard-to-pronounce things, but just leave it at one – don’t flog the dead horse of silly, hard-to-pronounce words.

When one picks up a book like The Sheriff of Yrnameer, it isn’t really expected that the science part of the science fiction will be well developed. However, at least make things plausible. The protagonist can’t travel the length of a galaxy that is presumably inhabited by billions, trillions, or more sentient beings to the one hidden inhabitable planet that has all of about 100 beings on it and know no less than 3 of the ‘people’ living there. It’s just ridiculous (which is an apt descriptor for much of The Sheriff of Yrnameer). And don’t blatantly copy Douglas Adams by ‘inventing’ bendspace as a means for traveling galactic distances. Also, while the hapless rogue is a well-loved character in American pop-culture, if you are going to center a 288-page book on him, at least make him somewhat likeable and interesting. Cole is an insensitve idiot, the kind of person I would like to see fail in life if I could be bothered with caring.

Satire is something I quite enjoy, so there are some redeeming qualities to The Sheriff of Yrnameer, just not enough to make the book worth recommending. Rubens’ galaxy is one of universal corporate sponsorship (even planet names) and his presentation of these worlds did bring an ironic smile to my face at times. Heck even the oft-joked about hard-to-pronounce Yrnameer is a play on ‘your-name-here’ for the only planet in the galaxy without a corporate sponsor. The satire bites deepest with an intelligence implant that turned a corporate retreat into an over-the-top cannablistic hell, perfectly remincent of a popular video game in Rubens’ world. The cameo of intergalactic pubic radio (I’m an avid NPR listener) and naming an indescribable bad-ass, yet surprisingly sensitive, alien enforcer Kenneth also provided me with amusement.

Frankly put, if I hadn’t been in a small Arizona town on a work assignment that gave me the choice of watching other people work or reading while watching people work with a choice only 3 books (all of which I read), The Sheriff of Yrnameer is not a novel I would have finished reading. Of course, this is a humor novel, which means that if the novel doesn’t appeal to your sense of humor, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy it. The Sheriff of Yrnameer clearly didn’t appeal to mine – maybe it will appeal to yours, but I won’t bet on it. 4/10


Liviu said...

I read 10 pages which was 8 too many but I felt I should give it a chance...

That's why you should have a well stocked e-reader, that way you would not need to waste precious reading time on junk...

Neth said...

Someday I'll take the plunge and get an e-reader. Right now, I think they still have too many problems (DRM and propiatary formats).

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