Nov 162021

Hard Luck Hank: Screw The Galaxy, by Steven Campbell

Synopsis: A nearly-invincible mutant must save his space station (a hive of scum and villainy) from destruction by aliens.

Book Review: This novel is excellent at what it does. What it does is provide a PG-13 comedy-action-adventure story. The skill with which it executes is remarkable.

The story keeps moving at a very good clip, never dull, but not rushed either. All the major players are introduced early and well. The conflict is clear, the plot is interesting. The jokes are good, if you’re into gritty Army-of-Darkness style humor (I am). There’s the PG-13 violence of an action movie, without any gore, and the hot chicks of a PG-13 movie, without nudity or sexual situations. The protagonist is fun, and very relatable despite being a criminal. He’s the guy who doesn’t want to be bothered, but he’s good at what he does, and he’s the Big Swingin’ Dick on this station, so he’s always involved in the important stuff. It’s great for a fun wish-fulfillment action story. :) Also, the story constantly raises its stakes, in a way I found captivating.

I think the best part is that, even though our hero is invincible, the situations he finds himself in are ones were being invincible helps but will not solve his problems. The charecter thinks of himself as dumb, but he’s actually very smart, just uneducated. The major conflicts in the story are all resolved by clever use of his specialist knowledge or unorthodox use of his unusual resources. We don’t worry that he’ll die, but he can still lose, and that makes seeing how he wins interesting.

Also, of vital importance: Hard Luck Hank doesn’t overstay its welcome. It reads fast and smooth. It tells a good story in a couple hundred pages, and then it’s done.

Ultimately, the book is a success because it gives you a promise, and then fulfills that promise well. You can tell exactly what sort of book this is by looking at the cover and reading the title. If you look at this cover and think “This could be fun to read!” then you’ll be happy with the time spent on this. I can’t recommend this book the same way I recommend books that I love. It isn’t emotionally moving. It isn’t intellectually stimulating, or artistically challenging. It has no bigger message. But it IS really fun, which is all it’s trying to be. If you want a fun, light read, of the kind promised by the cover, than I definitely Recommend this.

Book Club Review: Whether people like this book or not can be predicted by its cover. If they see it and want nothing to do with it, don’t bother. If they grin and say “could be fun!” then they’ll probably like it. The conversation around the book itself isn’t very long. It can be interesting, as people work through why something dumb and fun like this is still enjoyable. But you won’t have any major insights. Only Recommended if the group is into it and wants a break from reading more substantial stuff. Otherwise, Not.

Side-note: we read this directly after The Once And Future Witches. This was a coincidence. However, I couldn’t stop seeing the parrallels between the two books. Witches is also light, wish-fulfillment fare. But in all the places Witches failed, Hank succeeded.
– Despite being invincible, his struggles were interesting because his super-power couldn’t resolve them. Witches wasn’t, because despite pretending to be vulnerable, their magic solved all their problems consistently, easily, and without cost.
– Despite being silly and indulgent, Hank leads with “Look at how silly and indulgent this is gonna be! Don’t expect greatness, this is about Manly Dudes and Stuff Blowing Up and Hot Chicks!” Expectations are low, and reader is happy. Witches takes it’s name from a literary classic, and sports an abstract cover. Reader expects something ambitious, and is dissapointed, despite the fact that it’s not bad for light fare!
– Hank is fast and compact. Witches could have been a good read if it had been equally short. Instead it dragged on for more than twice Hank’s length. I gave up on Witches less than 3/4ths of the way through, at which point I would have finished Hank more than a hundred pages ago!

Although, the comparisons aren’t fully fair. Witches is aimed at a very different audience than Hank. Hank is great for people who enjoy teenage-boy shenanigans. (again, people who love Army of Darkness). Witches is aimed at elite women readers. Perhaps being super-long and unexciting is exactly what they like, and Witches is perfect for them. The contrasts in how “light, popcorn reading” played out between the two books just kept jumping to my attention.

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