Planet Janitor Custodian of the Stars is a science fiction novel by Chris Stevenson.
The Planet Janitor Corporation are experts in the handling of environmental clean-ups and close system jumps to pick up precious ores and space trash, led by Captain Zachary Crowe they have won a number of accolades. They have also however also got a growing number of mishaps under their belt and as Bad news always shouts louder than good, they feel obligated to accept a clandestine operation that no one else wants, offering as it does more money than they could spend in three lifetimes.
The crew will lose 26 years on Earth due to the cryo jump, but that is the least of their problems. What they find on Tau Ceti will test their wits, and threaten their very survival.
I was discussing science fiction with a friend the other day who has recently caught the scifi bug and for him the interest began when I lent him a Philip K Dick novel. While he was reading small bits of information were given out but not explained, and he felt compelled to keep reading to find out just what it all meant. In that conversation the example was the novel "Flow my tears, the policeman said" where at the very beginning we are told "could it be because your a six?", and you just have to find out just what the heck a "six" is.
The hook here is the all very secret mission to a strange planet in the Tau Ceti system and that hook really does work, you just have to find out why they are being sent there and what will happen once they arrive. This takes up the first quarter of the novel, and then when you are there you again have to find out just what happened on the planet. The second half of the novel is given over to a faster pace with plenty of action as events unfold.
The science is very plausible based on current understanding and the author clearly has a good grasp of physics, I especially liked the "Bang Drive" which essentially detonates a nuclear bomb behind the ship to propel it forward at high speed. Most of the technology is just a few steps away from our own current tech and there is nothing really outlandish or unrealistic.
Planet Janitor is in many ways a hark back to the Golden age of science fiction, although clearly a science fiction story the novel is very much plot driven with tight descriptive narrative and interesting, likeable characters although these can seem a little two dimensional at times. You may be thinking that a rag tag group of misfits on board a creaky rust bucket spaceship may be a very well used trope, and you would be right but it doesn't detract from the exceptional quality of the novel, and the original, intelligent and thought provoking ideas the author throws at the reader.
The novel's got a great energy about it, but also an undefinable maturity that gives it that "Golden Age" feel. The cover art goes some way to re-enforcing this feeling, with a behemoth of a ship that looks very much like a beached whale lying on a clearly alien planet.
Planet Janitor Custodian of the Stars is an accomplished novel of immersive depth and imaginative scope, highly recommended.
Written on Tuesday 21st December 2010 by Antony.
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