An Adult, Sci-Fi Read-it-if Review: Master of Formalities…

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As strange as it may sound, while today’s book is clearly a futuristic science fiction novel, I am certain it would also appeal to lovers of Jane Austen. With that bold and ufounded claim I would like to welcome you to today’s Read-it-if review. I received Master of Formalities by Scott Meyer from the publisher via Netgalley, after requesting it due to the promise of a sci-fi comedy of manners from an author who has employed puns in the titles of his past works. If that’s not an iron-clad formula for successful book-choosing, I don’t know what is. But let’s crack on.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Even when finding oneself engaged in interstellar war, good form must be observed. Our story is set thousands of years after the Terran Exodus, where two powerful, planet-dominating families—the elegant House Jakabitus and the less refined Hahn Empire—have reached a critical point in their generations-long war. Master Hennik, the Hahn ruler’s only son, has been captured, and the disposition of his internment may represent a last and welcome chance for peace.

Enter Wollard, the impeccably distinguished and impossibly correct Master of Formalities for House Jakabitus. When he suggests that Master Hennik be taken in as a ward of the House, certain complications arise. Wollard believes utterly and devotedly in adhering to rules and good etiquette. But how does one inform the ruler of a planet that you are claiming his son as your own—and still create enough goodwill to deescalate an intergalactic war?

master of formalities

Read it if:

*you believe that an argument will always be won by the person who presents the precedent that is simultaneously the most relevant and the most obscure

*you believe that servants should always be stealthy and unseen when carrying out their lowly occupations…unless they make an embarrassing mistake, in which case their humiliation should be paraded around to the maximum number of viewers

* you suspect that the futuristic Hahn Home World could well have picked up the foundations of its culture – enacting the greatest inconvenience on the greatest number, whenever possible – from observing the modern-day customer service models employed by health insurance companies

*you support activities that foster the father-son bond

What a strange and amusing little offering I found this to be! I fear I am going through a minor aversion to science fiction at the moment, simply because engaging in new futuristicky worlds seems to be far too much effort. I must say though, that I thoroughly enjoyed this little romp for the strangely compatible senses of familiarity and originality that it provided.

I did find the first two or three chapters a little confusing as Meyer drops the reader in at the deep end of world-building, requiring that salient points about the world be deduced from general conversation. By the time we’re introduced to Master Rayzo’s first “Sports” meet though, I was swinging along with the strata of characters and revelling in the dry, understated approach of Meyer’s humour.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I honestly think that this book is going to have a much wider appeal than just to those who enjoy science fiction, because while the setting is a futuristic, interplanetary society, the subterfuge, social manipulation and general political skulduggery will be familiar to and enjoyed by lovers of any type of social comedy. While the blurb might give the impression that there are fairly solemn issues at play here, Meyer keeps the tone firmly tongue-in-cheek and I found it very easy to be drawn into the various awkward social conflicts of the various characters.

My favourite scenes were undoubtedly those featuring Rayzo and his “adopted” brother Hennik. I couldn’t help laughing aloud at Hennik’s valiant attempts to retain control over his predicament, as well as his impressive commitment to being a complete little turd at every opportunity, as dictated by his culture. The late inclusion of the ruler of a third planet – one that delights in finding himself in annoying and inconvenient situations for the opportunities these provide for self-betterment – added a wonderfully unexpected tonic to the superciliousness of the Hahn ruling family.

I feel I should also mention that another late highlight in the tale was the highly amusing and completely ridiculous walking chair that one of the rulers uses. It’s making me laugh again now just thinking about it.

I also enjoyed the ebb and flow of power in the novel, as those who appear to be on top take a metaphorical tumble, providing the impetus for some unexpected characters to rise to the top of the social food chain. I can’t say too much here without spoiling some of the twists, but Meyer has done a good job of fleshing out his characters so that you can never be certain that your alliances won’t change as more information comes to light.

Master of Formalities turned out to be an unexpectedly light and twisty foray back into science fiction for me and it has certainly given me a reminder to check whether I still have one of Meyer’s previous titles, Off to Be the Wizard, on my Kindle. I remember reading mixed reviews of it on its release, but having enjoyed Meyer’s writing style and sense of humour so much here, I will definitely give it a go….just as soon as I have an opportunity to hack away a bit more at Mount TBR.

Until next time,

Bruce

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