I was an indifferent reader until I walked into my junior high school library the first week of seventh grade and found a bookshelf labeled science fiction. That day I took home I, Robot and The Martian Chronicles.
I’ve never looked back. I read other genres now, mostly fantasy, horror, and crime fiction, but science fiction has remained my sweet spot. I think I like it because it’s a literature of ideas, because it’s often a sharp, even devastating commentary of current events (hello The Handmaid’s Tail, Fahrenheit 451, and 1984), and especially because of the endlessly inventive world-building.
Speaking of endlessly inventive world-building…Mary Lynn Johnstone’s Spectacular Silver Earthling has some, I’ll say it, spectacular world-building. In her world, humans have spread throughout the universe, and robots are fully recognized as citizens. Hubcap, her main character, was formerly a rescue bot, saving humans lives. Now that he’s his own person, he has a new job—co-host of a tv show that reports on different jobs throughout the universe. Think reality TV like Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs.
Now they’re filming on a new, supposedly uninhabited planet where humans harvest jetpods, but the people there are being plagued by “space frenzy”, which sends victims into an emotional frenzy. When you add in dangerous flora and fauna, and the fact that the planet may not be uninhabited after all, and Hubcap has his hands full.
The thing is, Hubcap can handle it, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that. He’s a robot with an attitude, a snarky smart ass who can run rings around the squishy humans who surround him. A fact he’s happy to remind them. Hubcap is a wonderful character. He’s hilarious, with a huge heart (even if he doesn’t have one), and truthfully, he may be a spectacular silver earthling, but he’s also delightfully human. Just, you know, a little better.
Johnstone is writing classic, old school science fiction here. I don’t want to give much more away here, but the alien world where she’s set her adventure is complex, inventive, and well-thought out. Her narrative gallops along at breakneck pace with excellent action, and a ton of humor. As I read, I was reminded of The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, and Becky Chambers Wayfarers series, both for the humor and the hopeful, optimistic worldview. But Johnstone is very much doing her own thing here, and she’s written a winner.
Spectacular Silver Earthling left me hoping for a sequel, even a series. I can’t think of higher praise.