Starship Grifters

starship grifters

Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Kate Rudd

Length: 7:26:00

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

We’ve been lucky to have a ton of sci-fi space opera to read, and recent additions to the canon have been both full of action as well as making some astute social, religious, or political commentary amid various interstellar adventures and cosmic battles. Robert Kroese’s Starship Grifters is another refreshing and hilarious addition. This satirical space opera combines elements of classic science fiction tropes with a witty narrative that grabbed my attention (almost) from the start. I had a moment where I wasn’t in the mood for sci-fi the way I thought I was, and so it took me a little bit to get into this story. Once it got me hooked, though, all I wanted to do was listen to it.

I think the character development is a strength of the book. The protagonist, Rex Nihilo, is a lovable scoundrel with an insatiable appetite for trouble. Kroese skillfully crafts Rex as a charming yet flawed character (actually, he might be kind of a sociopath. I’m not entirely sure), whose resourcefulness and smart mouth often lead him into outrageous situations. As the story progresses, Rex just keeps landing himself in a series of progressively crazier calamities. At the same time, he also shows some surprising layers of depth beneath his initially superficial exterior. He’s still mainly superficial and does things that are the best for him, but he managed to surprise me on several occasions.

The supporting characters in the novel are equally memorable. Sasha, Rex’s robot sidekick, adds a touch of practicality and grounding to their escapades. She is the voice of reason that Rex decidedly ignores at every opportunity. Kroese infuses each character with unique traits and motivations, making them each well-rounded and fully-realized. The interactions between the cast are lively and entertaining, creating a dynamic ensemble that kept me interested in them and their adventures.

The setting overall is a delightful blend of futuristic technology and retro aesthetics. Do you remember that movie The Rocketeer? Sort of a steampunk/mid-century/detective noir aesthetic? This book was kind of like that, but in space. Kroese constructs a vivid universe filled with bustling spaceports, eccentric alien species, and advanced gadgets. The author’s attention to detail creates an immersive experience in this universe. It was pretty easy to visualize the places described and see the story as though I were a character observing from a distance. The world-building is done in a way that embraces the absurd and eccentric elements sometimes (but not always!) associated with science fiction, complementing the overall tone of the book.

Speaking of tone, humor permeates every page of Starship Grifters. Kroese combines witty banter, situational comedy, and clever wordplay to great effect. The narrative tone is lighthearted, and the author’s comedic timing shines throughout the story. That timing is further enhanced by Kate Rudd’s masterful narration. She nails Sasha’s dry tone perfectly and that deadpan delivery made for more than one laugh out loud moments. The humor is not only used for entertainment purposes but also as a vehicle for social commentary, poking fun at various aspects of human nature and society. This satirical approach adds an additional layer of depth to the story and elevates it beyond a simple space adventure story.

Going back to the audiobook and narration, as soon as I finished this book, I wanted to go and get the next one to listen to. Imagine my supreme disappointment when I discovered that Kate Rudd does NOT narrate the rest of the series! What the fuck? Why would you change a narrator from a good one to a not good one? The sample of book two wasn’t too promising and my skepticism regarding the skill of the new narrator seems to be borne out by many, many reviews saying that the story of the next two books are fun but the narration sucks. So unless the next books are ever an Audible daily deal or something, it is not very likely that I will bother listening to them. Maybe I’ll buy the print versions, though my self-imposed moratorium on buying new books is putting a crimp in that idea. 

All told, Starship Grifters is a highly enjoyable space opera that combines character-driven storytelling, an imaginative setting, and a comedic tone. Robert Kroese’s skillful development of the protagonist, engaging supporting cast, and the vibrant universe they inhabit make this novel a standout in the genre. Fans of science fiction with a penchant for humor will find themselves thoroughly entertained by this intergalactic romp. The main caveat I have is, if you are inclined to listen to the audiobooks, just know that Rudd won’t be narrating them all. You might want to steer clear of starting an audio series without knowing about the change in narrators. I wish I had known before I got this one.


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