Thousands of years in the future, machines have overthrown their human masters and became the new ruling class, relegating humanity to menial cleaning jobs maintaining the mechanics of their overlords. But, like any situation where inequality runs rampant, dissent is smouldering and only takes a small spark to ignite it.
The story follows Darren, a gormless freelance recharger, and Kelly, who runs a backstreet parlour for illicit and erotic machine polishing, who end up on the run together after Darren accidentally electrocutes a lamppost, and are later joined by Pam, a breadmaker with a shady past who is betrayed by her megalomaniacal smartphone boss. Their journey through the inverted world of humans serving machines introduces an oddball setting with a great deal of potential, but is unfortunately one that never feels properly realised.
Although the story is full of humanoid mechanical entities evolved from household appliances and electronic devices, there are very few descriptions of them. It’s one thing to declare an incidental character to be a kettle, a camera, a defibrillator, or a keyboard, but by not taking a moment to tell the reader what they’re supposed to look like it’s difficult to get a handle on how they should be visualised, which makes picturing interactions and action scenes somewhat difficult. There also isn’t much indication given of how everyday life functions, beyond the simple concept of machines and electronics acting like humans despite being machines and electronics.
The humour of the story heavily puts you in mind of the surreal absurdity of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but never quite reaches the heights of Douglas Adams’ wit and charm. It also feels like something akin to an episode of Red Dwarf, bizarre but still perfectly plausible within the context of the off-kilter world it has created where sentient machines rule the Earth and humanity has been largely exiled to orbiting council estates. Some of the jokes are throwaway moments, such as a reference to Alexa the god of the Internet, while others are ongoing, such as the grandmotherly condescension of a quartet of geriatric cyborgs.
Battlestar Suburbia is certainly a fun read, but you can’t help coming away with the impression that with a greater focus on worldbuilding and development it could have been so much more.
BATTLESTAR SUBURBIA / AUTHOR: CHRIS McCRUDDEN / PUBLISHER: FARRAGO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW