Had it not been for Gini Koch’s short story “Live At the Scene” published in Unidentified Funny Objects 3, there is probably little chance I would have picked up a copy of Alexander Outland: Space Pirate by G. J. Koch. I had pegged Koch as a SF/romance writer due to her popular Alien/Kitty Katt series, and romance is just not my cup of tea. But that is the beauty of science fiction’s continued love affair with the short form (despite there being very little money in writing shorts). A good reading experience in a magazine or anthology can induce readers to try writers they might otherwise have skipped.
Needless to say, Koch’s short story impressed me enough that I went looking to see what else she had to offer. And while I still couldn’t bring myself to try one of the Alien novels, I did become aware of her other series (or at least it is supposed to be a series, turmoil at Nightshade temporarily derailed the project) featuring the roguish pirate captain Alexander Napoleon Outland.
The story opens with Captain Outland, or ‘Nap’ as most of the crew of the call him, trying to land on a planet to conduct a rare legitimate business transaction. Unfortunately, word of his impending arrival has reached several women who are not pleased with him. It seems that Nap’s womanizing ways are not always appreciated, so he decides to hightail it out of there and seek a supplier on a more agreeable planet. But when the ship comes out of its hyper jump it is immediately ambushed by an invisible enemy, an armada of cloaked pirate spaceships. Nap’s exceptional piloting skills allow him to escape the trap, but he is forced to land on Herion, a planet under rigid military rule.
Once planetside, Nap and his crew find themselves as the uncomfortable focus of attention for several groups on the planet. Herion’s military are particularly interested in Nap’s account of the pirate attack since the planet has been in lockdown for six months with no one, other than Captain Outland, managing to evade the pirates. The local organized crime syndicate wants to hire Nap’s ship, Space Vessel 3369, or as Nap likes to call it, the sixty-nine, because they haven’t been able to get any goods off the planet for six months. Then there is a local terrorist group, the Land League, violently opposed to all space travel. Worse still, apparently the pirate armada poses a galaxy-wide threat and it increasingly looks like Nap and his crew of exceptional misfits are going to have to play heroes – not at all the sort of thing that makes for good pirating business.
The action in Alexander Outland: Space Pirate is pretty much non-stop. It seems like the crew gets into and out of dangerous situations almost as often as there are chapters in the book, and there are ninety chapters. And the plot is certainly a tangled web of constantly unfolding layers of intrigue. Both the constant action and complex plotting make for a difficult book to put down.
The tone of the story is decidedly humorous, as are many of the situations. The banter between characters is frequently snarky. And Koch clearly enjoys having fun with names, so much so that even the characters themselves comment on their silliness. There is also quite a bit of sex related humor. Outland, though ultimately likeable, has a libido set to overdrive and can’t seem to take his eyes off women’s breasts or stop thinking about having sex, particularly with his chief weapons officer, Slinkie. Nap’s constant pursuit of the seemingly unattainable Slinkie plays out as a secondary plotline, a sort of romantic comedy subplot that is not so strong as to scare off male readers.
Though certainly entertaining and enjoyable, the story does have its problems. There were several times I found it difficult to follow who was speaking due to a shortage of dialog tags during group conversations. Outland’s oversexed persona comes off a bit strong at the start (he makes Captain Kirk look shy around girls) and may turn off some readers before they get a chance to see his more admirable qualities. And, some of the technology is so blatantly a Deus ex machina, that it would be unforgivable if this were not comedy.
Still, in the final assessment, Alexander Outland: Space Pirate is a decidedly fast-paced, fun romp. Don’t read it for deep meaning or social commentary, because you won’t find any. This story is purely for fun and laughs and since that is what I think the author intended, it succeeds. Alexander Outland: Space Pirate is available from Nightshade Books.