This book is funny, shrewd and perceptive: an entertaining and satisfying read. The author had me from: “…the loaded gentry” (sentence 3). Pithy observations came thick and fast: “Swamp Things were the only creatures that could punch as hard as Grongles.” “Big Merv was bound to think he’d done it on purpose; nobody normal could be that stupid.” “The Pan didn’t make a habit of retrospection.”
Then there were the characters’ names: Sir Robin Get, the last of the great Nimmists, Frank the Knife (no relation to Mac), Ada the PR front of The Parrot and Screwdriver (The Pan of Hamgee’s local), General Moteurs (a high-ranking Grongolian army officer). Big Merv’s gang is known as The Mervinettes. I could hear the ghost of Spike Milligan chortling in the skies above Ning Dang Po, the capital city of K’Barth.
Our putative hero – the Pan of Hamgee – follows the time-honoured tradition of being unpromising in his youth. He is disarmingly open about his shortcomings: “It wasn’t so much that he was unhappy with his personality; he just wished it belonged to someone else.” Of course, as the story deliciously and hilariously unfolds, his hidden depths begin reluctantly to emerge.
But if this was all there was, it would be less of a book than it actually is. Accompanying the wit and smooth, skilful writing are some bitingly accurate observations about abuse of power, the subjugation of nations and the tendency of both conquering armies and resistance movements to provide opportunities for psychopaths to develop their full potential. “These days you didn’t ask people about their relatives, not when the State tended to arrest them in the middle of the night and mislay them by the morning.” “Periodically the looners behind the carnage changed, but the end result was the same.” “Passive non-cooperation, that was the K’Barthan way, unless you were a member of the Resistance. Every psychotic nutter in the country had joined them.”
K’Barth is a parallel universe two letters and an apostrophe away from Earth in a quantum mechanical kind of way. To travel between the two, you just need a thimbleful of advanced science involving a modicum of Random Mathematics. Add to the mix a fertile imagination and you are in for some entertaining rides in a highly desirable Snurd.