The time is finally upon us. The SPSFC has reached the finals, and we have a finalist review here for you today. This one is of Patrice Fitzgerald & Jack Lyster’s Captain Wu. This book has an SPSFC rating of 7.25 out of 10. Here’s my full review.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s difficult to go wrong with space opera. Sure there are some I don’t like, but even the needlessly overblown Lensman Saga has some great imagery in it. Because that’s what space opera is. It’s eye-popping visual spectacle and larger-than-life storytelling. It’s opera, but in space. Go figure. When I go to my reading records, it’s space opera that has the biggest share of the genre pie. So far this year I’ve read eighty books, and twenty-nine of them have fallen somewhere under the broad umbrella of space opera. It’s a genre I know pretty well, so when I tell you something is good space opera, please believe me. Captain Wu, for those who want me to get to the point, is good space opera.
The setup is a classic one. A crew of ragtag misfits hop around the galaxy in their starship doing jobs of varying legality in order to eke out a living. It worked for Firefly, it worked for Dark Matter, it worked for Embers of War, and it works for this first book of the Starship Nameless series. The same threads of DNA that spawned those other adventures runs through this one, which pulls of the usual opera trick of centring on great characters who aren’t afraid to have a little fun every now and then. Coming at the more modern end of the genre, Captain Wu also does things that earlier works often didn’t, which is a wordier way of saying that this book has more diverse representation than, for example, Blake’s 7. I haven’t looked into the authors’ bios, so I can’t say how much of this diversity is based on personal experience, but to my mind it’s exactly how diversity in fiction should work. Yes, it’s a feature that you notice, but it’s not the main attraction. Characters might be queer, but that’s not all there is to them. The only element that fell a little flat was Wu’s age. Granted, I don’t have a lot of experience with sexagenarian gunslingers, but Wu never felt like a woman in her sixties to me.
If you want an introduction to space opera as a genre, then this would be a fine place to start. The only drawback of its kitchen sink approach to worldbuilding is that it borrows and steals ideas from so many places, it doesn’t quite have a unique identity of its own. That’s fine, and doesn’t impact the story or the writing, but when you read so much of a genre, you end up looking for new angles to approach it from. Captain Wu gets all the tropes just right, but it doesn’t add anything new to the conversation. At least, not based on my reading. Others will surely disagree. But even if you’re a jaded space opera fanatic like me, this is still a really fun book, and a series to keep your eye on.