As announced on Sunday, At Boundary’s Edge has chosen our three semi-finalists for the SPSFC. Today we’ve got our second full review of the contest, which is of Dave Dobson’s Daros. With an SPSFC rating of 6.83 out of 10, this was the first book to receive a Yes from all our judges in Stage 1, and the first to be confirmed as a semi-finalist. Now then, let’s get on with the review itself.
It’s no secret that I love space opera. Though it’s a close fight with military science fiction, space opera is probably my favourite genre. And if you look at the endless walls of Amazon promotions, it seems like space opera is equally popular among self-published authors. Now, we didn’t get that many space opera books in At Boundary’s Edge’s thirty-book allocation, but there were a few, and this is one of the best. Thanks to our alphabetical reading schedule, Daros was one of the first books we read, and it immediately livened up the competition. Why? Because of two simple facts. One, Daros has a strong comedic element. Two, it was comedy that worked for our judges.
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve written and talked about how a book failed to win me over because the author and I have different ideas of what constitutes humour. Any comedy is bound to have fans. For example, I hate The Office with a passion, but it’s one of the country’s most popular sitcoms. At the same time, I find The Orville hilarious, while others find it overwhelmingly bland. You can’t please everyone, and nor should you try. The comedy in Daros is perhaps a little gentler than I prefer, but that’s the charm. It’s a nice book, with a warmth to the humour that wraps around you like a blanket. You probably won’t split your sides laughing, but don’t be too surprised if you find yourself chuckling, especially when it comes to chapter headings.
Strip away the comedy, and Daros offers some classic space opera action. There is subterfuge and smugglers, gunfights and gruesome villains, and the nearly-obligatory evil empire (though here it’s a Hegemony). And maybe it’s a bit too classic at times, but that’s okay. I don’t think you come to a book like this expecting to have your worldview altered. You come for a good time, and that is precisely what Daros delivers. What it lacks in innovation, it makes up for in space-based hijinks. If you’re familiar with the SyFy series Killjoys, then that’s the kind of vibe you’ll get here. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there’s charm in that. It sets out to be fun, and succeeds perfectly.
Yes, it can be rough around the edges at time, in both the storytelling and the story itself. Dobson’s prose has the readable clarity that I like in my fiction, but there are times when the description falls flat. There are aliens in this, but they never feel all that alien. I’d like to have seen a different approach to non-human narration, but perhaps I’m just a spoiled veteran of too many weird books. Because when it comes to the action (and there is a lot of that), Daros excels. It’s a brisk and punchy novel. The only thing flying faster than fists is the banter between characters, and this book has some of my favourite dialogue in the competition so far. If you like quips, you’ll love Daros. It’s that kind of a book.
I could pick at this book all day. But at the end of that day, Daros does exactly what space opera ought to do. It entertains. With a book like this, you can’t ask for more than that. Just read it, and have fun.