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REVIEW: Judgment Dave – SI Clarke

Judgment Dave - SI Clarke

Genre: Sci-Fi, Comedy

LGBTQ+ Category: Ace, Non-Binary

Reviewer: Scott

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About The Book

This time, the universe puts the cat in catastrophe…

Lem is adapting to her new home aboard a strange spaceship in an even stranger universe, where the misfit crew of the Teapot have more than enough trouble on their hands running their interplanetary charter service. But when they accept an urgent assignment, they have just one week to save a race of cat-people from certain destruction.

Stuck with a disaster-platypus of a project manager and a population seemingly determined to thwart their own rescue, the Teapotters face the impossible job of herding cats and evacuating the planet before it’s blown to smithereens..

Can Lem and the gang avert disaster and save this race of infuriating cat-people?

Perfect for fans of wacky and imaginative sci-fi stories, this satirical space opera is a ridiculous adventure that will delight readers of John Scalzi’s take on Fuzzy Nation or TJ Berry’s Space Unicorn Blues.

The Review

Judgement Dave is the sequel to The Left Hand of Dog, and if it’s possible, I think I loved it even more. In The Left Hand of Dog, Lem and her dog Spock got wrapped up in a bounty hunter sweep, along with a bunch of other aliens – the adorable and irrepressible Bexley, the gaseous but sweet cook Aurora, BB the giant yellow bird, and Henry the foul-mouthed robot pilot. Now they’re off on another adventure together aboard the Starship Teapot.

As in The Left Hand of Dog, the universal translator is what makes this multi-species romp possible. It has two modes, literal and figurative. Literal mode doesn’t work so well cross-species, but figurative mode allows the translator so substitute things the listener knows for the foreign words/concepts. So you get dilithium crystals and planets like Trantor and Dark Web, and it all makes perfect sense, freeing the author to find both the heart of her characters and the full silliness of the story and the situation.

Judgement Dave starts off with an urgent mission – an asteroid is hurtling toward a colony planet, and all ships within traveling distance are being asked to help evacuate the colony’s only city. Lem dubs the planet Dave, and off we go.

The inhabitants of Dave – dubbed the “plenties” – are a six-limbed cat-like species, and Clarke plays this metaphor to the hilt. Just like cats, they wander in and out of the transports meant to evacuate them, ignore orders, and generally treat their rescuers with disdain, like peons who are there to cater to their every whim.

But beyond these difficulties, the rescuers soon encounter another more disturbing one – the plenties’s “pets,” the kobolds, are actually sentient beings who have been enslaved by the catlike beings. Suddenly there are twice as many people to evacuate from Planet Dave in half the time, and a cultural/criminal mess to unsnarl.

Clarke has keen insight, and Judgement Dave holds up a mirror to our present moment, dealing with everything from race relations (“mouthbeaker supremacy”) to the crazy wash of conspiracy theories and cries of “fake news” we live with every day. It’s done at enough of a remove that it doesn’t feel too uncomfortable, and against this backdrop the characters carry us along on their madcap race against time as they literally herd cats, evacuate the kobolds, and try to navigate the thorny relationship between the plenties and their slaves.

I love how Clarke mixes so many sentient species and individual characters and gives each one their own unique flavor. Bexley is still my favorite, bubbly and full of life. I see a future for her and Lem, if the tea leaves are right. And I love love love Lem and her Earthling-filtered observations about the rest of the universe.

This book’s overarching plot makes it stronger than the first one. Where the first one was a mishmash of multi-planet adventures and character introductions, Judgement Dave one feels more intentional, a hilarious tale wrapped around a warm, uplifting core. Sure, there are a lot of laughs here, but this is also a circle of friends/found family story, and the trials and tribulations of the mission only brings them closer.

If you’re looking for an amusing thrill ride that recalls both the Hitchhiker’s Guide and Discworld, hop aboard the Starship Teapot. Just make sure you don’t miss the last flight off Planet Dave!

The Reviewer

Scott is the founder of Queer Sci Fi, and a fantasy and sci fi writer in his own right, with more than 30 published short stories, novellas and novels to his credit, including two trilogies.  

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