I finished Christopher Wright’s Pay Me, Bug! last night, and I’ve gotta say, I enjoyed the heck out of it. It was a space opera in the best sense of the term; in fact, I think I’d argue that it’s the best example of a space opera I’ve ever read.1 It’s got, at least, that most important aspect of a space opera: a sense that huge things are happening… in the background.
Because, to me, a space opera isn’t about those huge things happening. It’s about the fact that space is so mind-blowingly big that you can’t even hope to comprehend everything that’s going on. Sure, Pay Me, Bug! takes place in a fairly organized universe, in which there’s really only three big players to keep track of,2 but it’s still a huge, confusing space. A theocratic empire ruled by telepaths, a loosely-aligned group of planets that accounts for more than half the galactic population but doesn’t have a cohesive enough government to prevent the formation of some really nasty spy agencies, and finally a set of systems that were bought outright and stand as a testament to capitalism gone mad. It’s beautiful chaos, and it worked perfectly.
The book also gets points for good use of science-fiction tech, with the sort of hand-waving that’s totally in-character for the narrator,3 and there’s a few of the type of scene that every space opera needs – spectacular in scale, a depiction of an engineering marvel unparalleled in the real world, and, of course, so utterly cinematic that the mind’s eye instantly sees it on the screen of a theater.4
Anyhow, I’m not going to say a whole lot more, I feel like I’ve covered the main points. It’s a lovely book, the banter is incredible, and I was once again barely able to put the book down. Go read it – not only can you buy it as part of the Immerse or Die StoryBundle it’s also Doctorow-style available to read online for free.
- The ghost of Iain Banks is sitting the corner glaring at me. Apparently I’m going to have to reread all of the Culture books before I make that declaration. ↩
- The Radiant Throne, the Trade Baronies, and the Alliance, for those wondering. And yes, I’m aware of how stereotypical a name ‘the Alliance’ is, but I think the execution of the concept of Trade Baronies makes up for it. ↩
- Along the lines of “I don’t need to know how it works, I just need to know that it does work.” ↩
- In this book, it was the image of the capital of Barony Tylaris (or Tyrelos? I still can’t remember which is which.) as a city built on an asteroid, light gleaming off a transparent dome over the New City, which was built atop the Old City. ↩