No Small Bills, Aaron Rosenberg‘s latest original novel, is a humorous science-fiction novel in the tradition of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. One would think that having one’s head replaced with a duck’s by aliens would be the ultimate weirdness for any man on earth, and would change one’s life forever, but for DuckBob Spinowitz it has pretty much become normal. He is living his life in a boring nine-to-five job until the day he’s snatched by two government agents. Soon he learns that he and his alien-altered head are the only chance to save the galaxy, and so he sets off with a rat-tag group of allies – one of the agents, whom he only calls Tall, human-alien mediator Mary, and “tech-plumber” Ned – leading to a string of adventures to reach the quantum fluctuation matrix and realign it to stop an alien incursion.
Let’s start with a warning: if you are searching for a hard science-fiction novel with lots of real-world science in it, you’re totally wrong here. If, on the other hand, you are searching for a highly entertaining, fast-paced science-fiction tale that will have you laughing and chuckling repeatedly, No Small Bills should definitely be high on your wishlist. DuckBob’s special top extremity aside, the story starts straightforwardly enough for science-fiction and fantasy novels: unaware person is the only chance to save the world/galaxy/whatever, and is drafted into doing his duty by higher-ups. But once the story is underway the novel definitely becomes its own beast. Whenever you think it can’t get any weirder, the story already is own its way to another peak of weirdness. (Want a little peek? Shortly after the start of his journey DuckBob has already travelled through time, changed galactic history for ever, and has become the archenemy of flower-loving dinosaurs in the process. And it only gets weirder after that.) Such a sequence of weird events can easily lead to a total mess storytelling wise, but Rosenberg was able to keep the story focussed while being entertaining throughout the whole process.
In the opening paragraph I wrote that No Small Bills is a novel in the tradition of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and that’s true, but now I will say something that will probably cost me most of the geek cred I have: I read the first book in the Hitchhiker’s series and couldn’t really get into it, since for some reason I had a hard time to relate to the characters in it. That’s not the case here. Despite the fact that I’m usually not the biggest fan of first-person narratives, it really worked well here, since DuckBob’s attitude helps very well with filtering the events for the readers. A first-person story often comes with the danger that other characters could get the short shrift, but while DuckBob is the undisputed main character of the novel, the author was able to give the other characters of Bob’s group a fair bit of “duck-tinted” characterisation, too. Mary probably becomes too much of a bystander the farther the story progresses, but overall all three of Bob’s companions are certainly more than that for the majority of the story. Some of the minor characters are only there to move the story forward, but even those fulfill their roles very well, so that the characterisation does a great deal for the novel.
In my opinion No Small Bills is a novel that should not be missed by anyone who considers himself a fan of humorous science-fiction and undoubtedly is a good ambassador for the still relatively young Crazy 8 Press endeavour.
No Small Bills (by Aaron Rosenberg) was released by Crazy 8 Press in September 2011.