SPSFC 3 Review: The Complete Guide To Exploring Your New Planet

I didn’t get along with The Complete Guide To Exploring Your New Planet, but I can tell the author had a blast writing it. The trouble is, the author spent more time having fun and enjoying their love of works like Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy than they did considering how to make the book work for an audience.

Hattie, Sam, and Boomer thought they were just cogs in an average space based capitalist dystopia, but when their starship explodes on landing – sorry, undergoes a Ground Assisted Spontaneous Pressurized Oxidation Disassembly Event, or GASPODE – the world they’ve been sent to explore is no longer a boring bit of rock to drop a mayo sandwich on. It’s a wilderness trying to kill them with volcanoes the ship’s Artificial Yntelligence – MAY – refuses to call anything but a magma chamber, angry yellow dodo equivalents, the biggest fish that ever got away, and ancient aliens. Hattie, Sam, and Boomer aren’t very good at their jobs. Thankfully, the plane isn’t very good at killing them, either.

This is, blatantly, a passion project. This is the author loving a certain kind of book and taking a stab at writing one, probably spending many, many enjoyable hours with a hot drink in hand while chortling their way through another page. That’s the impression I get, and if you’re lucky enough to align with the author’s sense of humour, you could probably have a lot of fun with the book.

Unfortunately, it missed for me. Repeatedly, and badly. The author seems to enjoy obscure references twisted around funny-sounding words, and has written a sort of… humorous version of the Martian with a humour that relies heavily on words that sound funny being funny. Some of these references I caught – the infamous Spaghetti Tree April fool’s joke – some I caught, but disliked – there’s a significant love of Trump’s infamous misstatements of Covfefe (in the form of Kovfefe Koffee) and Hamberders, and the political origins of the silly words put a foul taste in my mouth every time they appeared. (With alarming frequency when, as a gag, the corporation that produces the gadget that automatically names critters on the planet gets into a slap-fight with the coffee company, resulting in everything being named ‘Kovfefe’ for awhile.) Some references, a lot of references, I suspect, went entirely over my head and as a result were just another set of incomprehensible gibble-gabble without much funny to it other than that it was out of the way.

Some jokes rambled on too long in that way where someone’s having too much fun telling the joke to get around to the punchline – resulting in situations where, when the punchline finally landed (or more often didn’t), they arrived with a strong desire to punch back. (Not really! Promise. Just a strong, disapproving groan.)

For me, the book was reminiscent of being invited over to a pal’s house and having to sit through their first try at stand up comedy. A lot of it won’t work, but your pal loves comedy or they wouldn’t be trying to do it. And that love means they actually do bring along a few good jokes, meaning that there is a readership out there for this.

But who?

An invented reader we’ll call Cozy Carter – Carter is not pressured to read books at a quick pace, the way I am when reading books to judge for SPSFC. Carter does not merely over a book, but likes to linger. They want something they can spend ten minutes a day with while waiting for a train. This book is (mostly) low stakes and runs at a good chapter-to-chapter pace, I suspect it will feel a hell of a lot funnier when you don’t have to race through it and the sledgehammer effect of jokes that miss the mark can ease off a little. That’s what Carter wants, and it’s entirely possible that this book would fit Carter’s needs perfectly.

Did this book need to be written and published? Yes it did. For me, it doesn’t work – I read and loved Hitch-Hiker’s Guide and once every few years I listen to the radio show over again, which means that where I see the author trying to achieve the same sort of thing… I get hopeful that they’re going to pull it off. And when they don’t, that disappointment bit deeply enough to ruin the experience for me. I think if the author had spent a bit more time focussed on what a reader would get out of the book, cutting it quite significantly, shortening and punching up the jokes, they would have come up with a better book… but honestly? I don’t think they would have had the same fun at the keyboard. And I think it’s okay to write a book just to amuse yourself with it – I think that’s actually a vital human activity. It’s making art for the fun of it, and playing around like that is one of the most important things we can do on this planet. So this book might not be for everybody, but I think it is for the author, and there is a playful joy in this thing whether or not it lands with its readers.

If you’d like to see if you’re lucky enough to connect with this funny but flawed book, you can explore the author’s LinkTree at https://linktr.ee/vildmark


You can find out more about SPSFC here: https://thespsfc.org

You can find all my reviews and posts dealing with SPSFC 2023 here: https://sinisbeautiful.com/tag/spsfc3/

Disclaimer: Please be aware that I am deliberately trying to take a different perspective to my usual one while judging for SPSFC 2023. Ordinarily I have a very narrow taste profile for what I like, and as part of my writerly practice I usually engage with books by tearing them to shreds and picking through what’s left to see if I can learn anything. I don’t think that’s a helpful point of view to review/judge from, and since reviews are for readers, not for writers, I’ve tried to avoid that here. (As you can see above. Your call on whether or not I succeeded, of course.)

By foozzzball

Malcolm Cross, otherwise known as 'foozzzball', lives in London and enjoys the personal space and privacy that the city is known for. When not misdirecting tourists to nonexistant landmarks and lurking at bus stops, Malcolm enjoys writing science fiction and fantasy with a furry twist.