Book Review: Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash by Yahtzee Croshaw

The sequel to the supremely funny Will Save the Galaxy for Food leaves a lot to be desired.  It still features more of the same humor, but the worldbuilding has dissipated in favor of action, and the gradual discovery of new, quirky features of this fictional universe was replaced by a non-linear plot that feels all the more linear.  Sure, there is still the feeling of nostalgia and longing for the good old days, and the one-liners are still funny, but this title does not reach the qualities of its predecessor.

The narrator, who this time uses the name Dashford Pierse, is once again hired by Penelope Warden to impersonate the famous book author Jacques McKeown.  In the first book, Warden worked as the personal assistant to a powerful crime boss.  Now she is hiding from him on a space station, and the boss of that station (with whom Warden may have a personal relationship) has fallen sick.  The only thing that can save him is an antidote, kept in a cryogenic container, hidden away at the apartment currently occupied by the crime boss’s son David.  Pierce is supposed to infiltrate the compound, using David’s infatuation with the real McKeown and his books.

Warden assembles a team that includes a self-important thief with a teleportation portal in place of his hand, and a former super villain who used his computer skills to mind control people.  As they liberate the canister and accidentally abduct the crime boss along the way, they learn that they have not stolen any antidote, but the frozen body of the most dangerous villain in the galaxy, Teragorn.  They motley crew releases him by mistake, and after a series of misadventures he captures Pierce, and after a mock trial has his minions execute him.  Then the real action begins…

The problem with sequels is that they can’t keep up with the amazing worldbuilding of the first book.  That’s an almost universal issue.  Even classics like The Lord of the Rings face the same challenge.  The first title is all about introducing the reader to the wondrous world where the story takes place, and the sequels just add to the already established world and fill the void with a much better developed story.  This is also the case with this sequel.  Will Save the Galaxy for Food not only established a universe where the era of heroic star pilots and super villains came to an end, but also laid out certain social and cultural norms.  A good example for this is the language.  Star pilots invented new curse words, derived from mathematical operations, as they blamed math for the invention of instant teleportation.  A lot of thought was given in the first novel to the structure of these curse words.  In Destroy the Galaxy, they are just thrown around with abandon, with no more explanation needed.  That missing space around the explanations had to be filled by something else.

Croshaw used action to fill the void.  Where the first book felt inconsequential in the grand scale of things, the sequel feels like a bull in a china shop.  Pierce leaves a trail of destruction in his wake, and Teragorn affects everyone in the universe.  Suddenly, I didn’t feel the same intimate connection with the characters as in the first book.  Moreover, the exploration of this universe had to be replaced, and the author opted for suspense and several twists towards the end.  For the twists, he used a device I thought was long dead and buried: jumping in time.  So, we see something bad about to happen to our heroes, only to start the next chapter several days in the past where the protagonist anticipates such a development and prepares to use it to his advantage.  This story structure is quite old-fashioned and had been long abandoned because it telegraphs the twists long ahead, and after using it once, not even the densest reader will fall for it again, essentially negating any feeling of suspense the author may have tried to achieve.

The interaction between various characters has also taken a turn for the worse.  It’s ironic that Teragorn, who is wonderfully idiosyncratic, brought about the change in how I felt about the characters.  I think Croshaw felt it, too, and voiced it through Pierce who talked about space pilots being big children, playing without the regard for anyone.  I would go even further.  To me, the star pilots and super villains felt like a bunch of young adults, sitting in a basement and role-playing the entire story as part of a space-themed tabletop game.  They seem to be restricted to basic character traits, but otherwise are so bored that they just go through the motions to see where their dungeon master is pushing the story.

That said, I actually found some improvements in the book.  In particular, the character of Warden was wonderfully written, but woefully underutilized.  In the first book, she was a major annoyance to the protagonist, but here she was outright evil.  I honestly hope that the third book, if it’s written, will see her as a new breed of super villain, against whom even the heroic star pilots stand no chance.

Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash is not as good as its predecessor, and I feel I have been overly critical of it in my review.  It’s still a fun listen (as of this writing it has only been released as an audiobook) that doesn’t take too long, and the narration is as solid as one gets to expect from the author.  Those who like more action in their books will appreciate the set pieces and battles described to the smallest detail.  They’ll also like the thief and his ego, which gets him into more trouble than necessary.  Some of the scenes are still genuinely funny.  However, I personally have felt that the sense of wonder and the humanity has diminished, and I was disappointed.

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