Saturday, June 16, 2012

REVIEW: The Ultimate Inferior Beings / Mark Roman

TITLE: The Ultimate Inferior Beings
AUTHOR: Mark Roman
PUBLISHER: Cogwheel Press
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon US (paperback), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (paperback)
APPROXIMATE LENGTH: 300 pages (paperback)

Recommended for fans of science fiction comedy (such as the Hitchhiker series by Douglas Adams, The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem, and the Doctor Who series) and British humor

Science Fiction—Comedy

The Ultimate Inferior Beings is a space adventure that is written with a satirical lilt. While technologies are described, there are no lengthy scientific explanations.

The Ultimate Inferior Beings includes enough mystery and intrigue to keep you turning the pages while taking the time to enjoy each scene.

Third person omniscient. The narrator has a very distinct storytelling voice and every so often will address the reader. Each character’s thoughts and motivations are explored, and at times the perspective is fairly limited.

The Ultimate Inferior Beings takes place in the distant future in which humans have colonized space. The story begins when a starship that had been making the journey from Earth to one of its most remote colonies, Tenalp, arrives with all of its crewmembers mysteriously deceased. As explained in the book’s brief introduction, the residents of Tenalp are hilariously bad at everything. Therefore, after much deliberation, the Tenalp government determines that the best way to find out what happened is to send another starship on an identical mission.

jixX is a landscape architect who happens to be appointed captain of The Night Ripple, the ship that is sent on this mission. Although he repeatedly protests that his “flight experience” consists of him sitting on his pilot father’s lap as a child, he is given little choice in the matter. jixX is very much the everyman—not especially bright but smart enough to realize how ridiculous the circumstances are, making him likable and easy to sympathize with. His personality and physical features are left intentionally vague, and in some ways he represents the reader’s position in the story. He is the only somewhat normal character in this world of oddities.

The rest of the cast is a downright madhouse of colorful, peculiar personalities. Soon after taking off, jixX is introduced to his relatively useless crew: a carpenter who has only ever worked with wood substitutes and is obsessed with real wood, a scientist who is adamant that God left puns in the English language and that uncovering these puns will prove His existence, and a rather psychopathic gynecologist, who is also the only woman on board. In addition, jixX soon uncovers a mysterious stowaway who has made a career out of her ability to hide. And then there’s LEP, the ship’s highly incompetent central computer with an entertainingly lame sense of humor and no sense of direction.

It is LEP that suggests the name “Mamm aliens” for the race of slimy green blobs that jixX and his crew stumble upon after they enter the Pseudogravitic Continuum, a bubble universe through which they are meant to pass on their way to Earth. The Mamms’ civilization is centered around the almighty brick, and among them is a group of religious fanatics who believe in the Ultimate Inferior Beings—a race of beings so bad at everything that they will one day destroy the universe. One of these fanatics, Jeremy, uses circuitous reasoning to determine that humans are these beings and that he is the Chosen One who must destroy them. Jeremy’s blowhard speeches satirize the kind of roundabout arguments often heard from real-life fanatics, religious and otherwise, and it is up to jixX to stop him and save humankind.

Given what we are shown of the Tenalp civilization, Jeremy, despite his erroneous thinking, probably has a point. The bulk of the book’s humor comes from watching just how incredibly daft the characters, especially those in positions of authority, can be while still believing in their own flawed logic and inherent superiority. And then there are the scientist’s “discoveries” in the English language—messages found in the Periodic Table that convince him that he is getting closer to finding proof of God’s existence.

At the back of the book is a Glossary defining some of the terms used in the novel—and then some. All technologies and locations are explained in the narrative itself, and so the Glossary isn’t required to understand what is going on. Rather, it serves as an entertaining bonus feature that partially explains some of Tenalp’s characteristics (such as why all citizens of that planet have lower case names ending with X) and provides as another opportunity to enjoy Roman’s unique wit.  In addition, there are appendices describing the evolution and history of the Mamm aliens, a bonus story, and another one of the scientist’s pun proofs. Finally, there is what I initially believed to be a hysterically worthless index of the kind that might have been created by the citizens of Tenalp, featuring words such as “me” and “that.” However, it turns out that Roman has pulled a fast one again—it is in fact a puzzle.

The Ultimate Inferior Beings is written with a very distinctive attitude, and at times it feels as though the narrator himself is a character in the story, making quips about the situation as he describes it. And yet this voice never gets in the way of the story itself—rather, it lends to the book’s offbeat atmosphere. While verisimilitude isn’t a priority in a story that features green blobs with posh Oxbridge accents, the universe is nevertheless believable in its own quirky way. It is easy to become immersed in the story’s many absurdities and to become quite attached to its wonderfully eccentric style. Original, clever, and droll, Roman has created a thoroughly enjoyable work of science fiction comedy that will appeal to anyone who appreciates intelligent humor.

The Kindle version has a table of contents at the beginning.

This book is pretty G-rated – no adult language, no sex scenes, no violence (other than bricks smashing through windows and an explosion in space)

Mark Roman is a scientist who lives in London with his wife and two children. He has published around 80 papers, reviews, and book chapters under a different name and has worked in a number of fields from architecture to astrophysics.

RELATED: An Interview with Mark Roman

Book Trailer:

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