A dwarf, an elf, an orc, a human, and a djinn take off in a spaceship... The start to a great geek joke? No. It's the premise of S. E. Zbasnik's novel, Dwarves in Space. The Elation Cru is a decrepit space cruise ship manned by a band of misfits of various species. The human captain's murky past as a Knight of the Crest catches up with her, and puts her crew and ship in peril.
While the stage is set for a fun-filled romp through space with a zany cast of characters, the book fails to capitalize on that promise. Plot seems to be an afterthought and isn't apparent until about half way through the book. For the first part, Dwarves is short on world building or character development, and long on trying too hard to set up satirical one-liners. The effort at cleverness in referencing every sci-fi/fantasy trope possible is obvious, making the writing--not the story--the focus.
When the plot does finally emerge in the second half, the book hits its stride. There are great gems to be found here. Up to this point, it's difficult to get vested in any of the characters--they seem to be stereotypes from central casting. As the plot and subplots take form, we see them in action within the context of the story. Now their personalities come through and they become real. The many strong female characters add a new dimension to the typical shipboard relationships, and make the reader want to know more about the dynamics among crew members.
The best part of the book--what makes it worth reading, and illustrate the author's true talent and capability--are the scenes on the Orc colony. The orcs' female dominant society, and the subplot involving the ship's orc doctor, is a marvelous bit of satire. It's in these scenes the characters truly become 3-dimensional, with emotions and distinct personalities, rather than cardboard cutouts, present for the sake of a joke.
Dwarves in Space is ripe with potential to be a great novel. With the numerous grammar and spelling errors, and a rambling-in-search-of-a-story first half, that potential has been lost in the race to publish instead of polish. As it is, it's a solid first draft that still needs to be brought to fruition.
Fans of quirky, humorous fantasy satire may enjoy parts of Dwarves in Space. The glimpses of a great story that appear in the second half only serve to emphasize that the author is capable of better work than found elsewhere in the book. By fleshing out the plot and key subplots, particularly the superb satire of Orc society, this could be a very entertaining novel. First, though, it needs a thorough editing, and trimming away of the excess that adds little to the story other than word count. Then, the hidden gems within could shine.
2.5 stars - Based on a creative premise, Dwarves in Space fails to live up to its potential. With some additional effort to edit, revise, and tighten the story, an updated edition could be great.
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Lynne Hinkey is the author of two novels. Marina Melee is a topical island misadventure where living the easy life is hard work! In Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons, a monster rampages through Puerto Rico. Is the chupacabra real or myth? Dog only knows (and no one is asking him!)