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John Brosnan
Gollancz, 280 pages

John Brosnan
John Brosnan was born in Australia but has spent many years living in London. In addition to writing a number of science fiction novels, and the critically acclaimed film books Movie Magic, Future Tense and The Horror People he is a prolific journalist who writes for a number of national papers and genre magazines. His previous science fiction titles include The Sky Lords, War of the Sky Lords, The Fall of the Sky Lords and The Opoponax Invasion.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

When the Elite, who have controlled the world of Urba with an iron fist from time immemorial, suddenly lose their magical defenses, it isn't long before the oppressed masses rise up to massacre their hated rulers. Now the change the Elite withheld from Urba for so long is afoot, and dashing and reckless Prince Kender of the Domain of Capelia decides to embark on a spying mission to assess it. Fearing for his safety, his father, Lord Krader, commands his childhood friend Jad, a rather incompetent and much-less-than-reckless jester, to accompany him. "You're an idiot," Lord Krader tells Jad, "but also shrewd, devious, cunning and a born liar. Hopefully you'll keep my son alive while saving your own skin." Jad isn't so sure. But he has no choice, so after making pious offerings to their favorite gods (Maurice, God of War, and Agnes, Goddess of Good Sex), off Jad and Kender go on their quest, in short order encountering bandits, pirates, various flavors of monster, and a mysterious young woman who knows more than she's letting on.

Sounds like pretty standard fantasy, right? Wrong. Since it's mentioned in the cover copy, I'm not giving anything away by revealing that Urba isn't a world at all, but a vast generation ship that has been voyaging through space for so long that its inhabitants have forgotten their Earthly origins -- all except for the Elite. The Elite are the descendants of the technocrats who invented Urba's pseudo-medieval society, which was put in place as a sort of giant social experiment after escalating religious and cultural tensions among the ship's original passengers threatened disaster. But some sort of unknown catastrophe has rendered all Elite technology non-functional, which is certainly bad news for the Elite, but may also represent a threat to Urba itself -- at least, according to Jad's and Ken's mysterious young woman, Alucia, who turns out to be an Elite in disguise.

Ken doesn't believe a word of her story, but to Jad, who really is very shrewd, it all starts to make sense. When Alucia proposes that Jad and Ken accompany her on an expedition to the Elite's main stronghold to try and figure out what's going on, Ken -- who is madly in lust with her even though he thinks she's crazy -- agrees at once. Jad is suspicious -- he's pretty sure that Alucia is manipulating them, not to mention the fact that she is Elite, and therefore responsible for some pretty terrible things. But where Ken goes, Jad perforce must go also, praying that he really is, as Lord Krader contemptuously labeled him, a natural survivor.

Reading Mothership, I was strongly reminded of Peter David's sardonic fantasy Sir Apropos of Nothing -- not because of any parallel of setting or subject matter, but because Jad -- resentful, self-serving, sharp-tongued, and extremely clever -- bears more than a passing resemblance to David's anti-hero, and John Brosnan's brand of punning, irreverent, just-short-of-slapstick humor is very much like David's (though David is trying to make a fairly serious point about heroism, and Brosnan doesn't seem to be concerned with much beyond the funny stuff). I enjoy this sort of thing; and while one could pick a lot of nits what is really a pretty silly story, and some SF purists might be bugged by the fact that it doesn't take itself even remotely seriously as a generation ship novel, I had enough fun with it that I really didn't care. The adventure is entertaining, the characters are amusing, and most of the humor works. Plus, there are some smart touches -- "Probably some technocrat read The Lord of the Rings one too many times," Alucia says, trying to explain why Urba should have been set up as a kind of medieval theme park, complete with trolls and dragons and sea serpents. "Tried to read it once, but never got through the first volume. Dreadful stuff."

Events toward the end indicate that Alucia, a woman of many secrets, has a few dozen more up her sleeve, and the open conclusion promises more hijinks to come. Mothership 2 is due next year.

Copyright © 2004 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Burning Land, is available from HarperCollins Eos. For more information, visit her website.

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