A Retief For A New Generation

Royce Ree Omnibus (The Emperor's New Clothes), Volume 1 - Aldous Mercer

Humor in Science Fiction is not a new thing. Readers seem surprised when they encounter it. Sometimes it's episodic humor in otherwise serious stories, (see most conversations between Miles Vorkosigan and his cousin Ivan) sometimes the story itself is farce/ satire (see Douglas Addams entire body of work) and sometimes we're looking at a Comedy of Ideas (see Keith Laumer's Retief novels.)

While there are farcical moments in Royce Ree's first full adventure, this really does fall into the third category and Royce, very much together and up to his eyeballs in plans within plans and contingency plans if those should fall through, is almost an homage to Retief, though Royce has some surprisingly vulnerable spots that he shows to the readers if not the rest of the universe.

While you can take The Emperor's New Clothes in small bites, (the story is available in separate "episodes") I recommend devouring the whole thing in one wild, multi-course feast. (Hence the Omnibus.)But I suppose I should back up again...

This is (shocked face) not a traditional romance. Nor is the story told in traditional linear fashion as most folks are accustomed to with romance. There is a romance contained within the story - and it is a central driving force behind the story - but there's so much more going on here than boy meets boy.

We're well and fairly tossed in medias res and then jump backward and work our way forward (for the most part) until the final reveals. This is not a structure familiar to most romance readers, but should be familiar to readers of crime fiction, this ending first, here's what happened before, and finally here are the machinations behind the scenes are a structure we've seen there frequently. (See Reservoir Dogs, e.g.)And this is, among other things, a classic tale of the Big Job that had to be Planned Carefully and had Lots of Things Go Wrong Despite All the Planning.

Which works well for a comedy and I found myself snickering and bursting into surprised laughs more than once. Royce sets out, supposedly to steal a planet's impeccable sense of style. He ends up stealing oh so much more than that. What appears to be a simple break and enter soon evolves into a mess of, pardon the pun, royal proportions. I do wonder how Royce kept all the lies and machinations straight without his head exploding - but that's what he does. And he's good at it. Some plot points seemed a bit too convenient, even for a comedy, but it doesn't mar the overall sense of oh-no-I-can't-believe-that-just-happened fun.

Aldous Mercer's twisty mind (and I mean this in a good way) takes a traditional fairy tale, turns it inside out and plunks it on its head, lightly tosses with story traditions from far flung sources (don't think you slid the Buddha under the bodhi tree reference past me, ha!) and stirs with just enough chaos to keep you guessing.

This is his first self-publishing venture and if I have any criticism, it's that when you self-publish, you need to take your time. There were points where I had to re-read several times before I realized the wrong word had been used in error and some odd formatting issues appeared in one chapter where the font suddenly became gargantuan. But this is a learning process and nothing that a good editor and a second upload can't fix.

To say much more would be to give things away - and you really need to approach this story with a sense of wonder and have all the surprises jump out at you fresh and new or it won't be any fun. I still have questions. Of course I do. Royce's parentage. The structure of the Empire. Did Les ever forgive him?

I'm looking forward to more. Royce is arrogant, high-handed, outwardly cold and a lying bastard. And I think I'm in love.