In Dave Schroeder’s Xenotech Rising (Xenotech Support #1), first contact has been made in the form of aliens teleporting straight into the office of JP Morgan Chase and offering Earth a space in the Galactic Free Trade Association. Now, fifteen years later, Earth is bonkers with hyper-advanced alien technology, and when that tech breaks (or, more likely, when the user does something stupid to it), someone’s gotta fix it.
Enter Jack Buckston. As the head of Xenotech Support Corporation, he’s the guy to call when alien tech goes weird. Little does he know that what starts as a simple fix-it might tangle him in a plot that threatens Earth’s new place in the universe…
Okay, there are two things you need to know about this book going in: 1) Xenotech Rising is a sci-fi comedy, and 2) a lot of that comedy hinges on puns, dad joke humor, and geek references. Jack’s very first job in the book involves fixing an issue with “rabbot” lawn mowers that are replicating like rabbits at an organization called Widget Tech & Fabrication (or, WT&F). If that alone made you groan, you can put your wallet away now and go read something about taxes or whatever it is humorless pun-haters like to read about. Meanwhile those of us who thrive on silly wordplay will find a smorgasbord of nourishment here.
Even so, there’s more to the humor than puns. Xenotech’s is a setting in which one of Earth’s biggest exports is government session broadcasts repackaged as reality TV shows, and they’re so profitable that the most…erm…entertaining congresses have added extra chambers and extended sessions to maximize their on-screen time and profits. And even though Delta American Air-Space is first introduced as “the D’Am Company,” that introduction is immediately followed by a look at how airline travel even managed to remain A Thing in a universe where teleportation is also A Thing – and it all comes down to economics. Though it’s certainly a source of humor, the galactic economy is an elaborately imagined and genuinely intelligent part of this world.
Of course, with alien tech comes alien civilization, and the aliens in this novel are equally imaginative. They range from the Murm, which are tiny intelligent beetles with even tinier wormholes in their heads that allow their hivemind to communicate across galaxies (whew!), to the Dauushans, which are six-legged elephantine centaurs with three trunks that have three more trunks, which grant them the mobility they need to be one of the most high tech civilizations in the setting, despite their clumsy bulk (whewwww!). These don’t even scratch the tip of the iceberg as Xenotech’s alien races are concerned, and the unique characteristics of these races often shape the story in such a way that they’re inseparable from it.
The cast of characters is infinitely likeable, too. Jack is a regular guy who just wants to finish his jobs without some idiot getting in the way (so, relatable for anyone who works with the public). He’s also a perfect, if awkward gentleman to Poly, his tech- and disaster-savvy maybe-hopefully-girlfriend. Most notable to me, though, is Terrhi, a young Dauushan who, despite being one of the least human-looking and potentially least relatable of the alien species, ends up being one of the single most adorable characters I’ve ever read – and plays more of a role in the story than one would initially expect.
Most criticism that I have comes down to personal taste:
Its opening is slow-paced enough that it took several chapters for me to realize where the story was even going – but once the threads began to come together, I realized that everything had actually been set up from the very first chapter, which made the eventual “Aha!” moment that much more fun. 😀 Similarly, part of the climax goes long and seems to amount to “Well, it would be a waste to have an immersive virtual reality company in this book and not have an extended virtual reality video game battle, so…here’s some of that.” Still, even though it doesn’t contribute a whole lot to the plot, it’s still fun to read (even if some of its puns are shoehorned in way too hard, even for a book defined by puns).
The closest thing I have to a real complaint is that Poly’s insistent romantic advances on Jack become a little tiring. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to read a relationship in which the woman is the initiator. On the other, there was more than one scene in which I went, “Dang girl, he said no! How much clearer can he be?” 😐 It’s played mostly for humor, though, to accentuate the gentleman that Jack is, and ultimately the positives in their relationship outweigh this one small negative.
All this to say, if you’re in the mood for self-consciously dorky humor and unexpectedly complex sci-fi comedy, you’d do well to pick up Xenotech Rising. 😄
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