Review: “Dwarves in Space” by S.E. Zbasnik

dis_coverFinal Rating: threeandahalfcupscroppedThree and a half cups of deliciously hilarious tea!

Available On: GoodreadsAmazon

I think I audibly squee’d when I found out that Zbasnik was putting Dwarves in Space up for pre-order. A little over a year ago, she sent me an ARC of Dwarves to critique. While it had its bumpy parts, as any ARC likely would, I absolutely loved it and have been eagerly awaiting news of a release ever since.

AT LONG LAST, THE PROPHESIED TIME HAS COME.

Thanks to Joss Whedon’s long-standing status as Official Nerd Darling, pretty much any space adventure with a rag-tag crew of misfits getting into scrapes and having snarky dialogue with each other gets compared to Firefly. And I’ll admit, that’s a correlation I drew at first too. There are definitely similarities, and it’s very easy to say “Oh, did you like Firefly? Well, you’ll like this too!” But to be honest, I think that does Dwarves a bit of a disservice. For one thing, Dwarves actually feels like a world, rather than a tiny little sliver of a world that’s supposed to feel big but isn’t actually represented. We actually get to explore the different cultures available in Dwarves and in a way that was really satisfying, rather than just hearing lore about all of these different places and wishing we could maybe go there someday. (Or worse, as in Firefly, seeing trappings of these cultures used everywhere but never actually seeing the people the cultures represent) The crew is also, in my opinion at least, more nuanced than the folks over on Firefly, who unfortunately get sucked into a lot of very common sci-fi tropes, never to escape. And finally, there is the very obvious element of D&D-esque fantasy in Dwarves that Firefly doesn’t possess.

So now that we’ve all gotten that out of our systems, how about we stow the Firefly comparisons for the rest of the review. Instead, let’s focus on what this book is on its own.

Long-time readers of this blog will already know how much I need (and want) to connect with the characters in my books. If I can truly form an emotional bond with one (or more) of your characters, then I am yours. With Dwarves, this bond formed almost instantly. There wasn’t a single character on the Elation Cru that I couldn’t imagine myself hanging out with. (Or, in Ferra’s case, keeping my distance from very respectfully so she doesn’t throw a space-wrench at my head.) They all feel like people, which may sound a bit funny but in my opinion this is one of the hardest things to achieve in books. Making your characters feel realistic and relatable is the holy grail of speculative fiction, and in Dwarves, the author does it with ease. When I can close my eyes and predict how a character will act in a certain situation because I know them just that darn well, you know you’ve hit paydirt.

I was also surprised–and delighted!–to discover that there is romance in this book! But it is not the frustrating, treacle-y kind of romance I am used to seeing shoehorned into sci-fi novels, where some naive farm boy stumbles over his words or some naive farm girl hates herself when she thinks about touching somebody’s junk. Nope, this is a romance where two adults who have Seen Some Shit realize that they really really want to touch each other but aren’t quite sure how to handle it. Dear Universe, please give me more relationships like this–my spoon is polished, cleaned and ready for me to eat them up with. While I have nothing against naievete, let’s be honest: That concept h as gotten its moment in the sun. There are way more folks out there who aren’t quite sure what to do with their emotions and their Pantsfeelings, and seeing two people who I already loved try to figure out how to love each other was SO satisfying. #TeamWantToSayTheirNamesButCan’tCauseSpoilers.

Oh hey, did I almost forget to mention the badass action scenes? Yup. No joke, I’ve lost count of how many sci-fi (and fantasy!) novels I’ve read where any kind of fighting or action comes across with all the dynamism of a wet paper bag. Thanks, but I don’t need to know about every bead of sweat meaningfully trickling down the side of our protagonist’s face, nor do I need to know what their hopes and dreams are as they attempt to plunge their sword/lightsaber/sonic buzzsaw into the other party’s chest. But not Dwarves in Space! I kid you not, the author somehow manages to make things like pulling wires or hitting buttons on a console seem intense. It’s great. This applies to both personal fight scenes, and ones which take place in Ye Olde Voide of Space. The fighting in this book was also enjoyable to me because it doesn’t feel like it’s taking place of the plot or the story; rather, it’s happening because of the story.  You know, like fight scenes should. It’s not just padding.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this book is funny. Genuinely funny. Granted, humor is a subjective business and I can’t say for sure that you’ll be tickled by it the same way I was, but damn it, when was the last time I read a sci-fi novel that was actually amusing? I don’t even remember. They’re all usually trying to be so damn Serious Business that they forget how humor works. Or worse, they try and rip of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Monty Python so hard that they come across as self-congratulatory flatulence. Reading something that laughs both at itself and at the situations unfolding was a nice change.

In conclusion, you should absolutely pre-order this book. You should read it, hopefully enjoy it, and do a little dance that this is a sci-fi book that doesn’t rely on technobabble or each member of an alien species all being the same in order to make its point. You should also absolutely follow its author on Twitter and bug her to continue editing it so it comes out on time, and then follow up on this by bugging her to get to work editing on the sequel. Tell her I sent you. 😉

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