They say humor is one of the hardest genres to write. Most science fiction authors simply have to write a story that matches their readers' tastes in SF. Simon Haynes has to hit the mark with both the SF element and the humor. Unfortunately, for me, the humor didn't quite hit the mark.
Haynes is getting some good press with his Spacejock books. He just signed with an agent, and it sounds like we'll be seeing a U. S. release for both books. So what's not working for me? I think there are two things going on:
1. The characters aren't always as sympathetic as I'd like. When our heroic pilot Hal Spacejock ditches his loyal robot Clunk at a museum, it felt like we crossed the thin line between "lovably incompetent pilot" and "selfish jerk." To be fair, Hal redeems himself a bit later in the book when he thinks something has happened to Clunk ... but overall, he toes the jerk line a bit too much for me.
2. Cohesiveness. There's an episodic feel to the books. As in the first Hal Spacejock book, Hal's goal in this one is pretty straightforward: deliver cargo A to point B without getting blown up, smashed by killer robots, ripped apart by apes, and so on. Naturally, he encounters obstacles to this goal. But I find myself wanting these obstacles to all tie together thematically, or else by reappearing in a significant way at the end of the book. For example: Frodo's obstacles in Lord of the Rings help demonstrate his own strength and courage, while also showing the power of the ring, setting the stage for his final choice at the volcano. To pick an obstacle from Second Course, the ancient civilization plot could have been cut out altogether, and I don't think it would have changed the overall story that much.
Don't get me wrong. There's some good stuff here. I loved Haynes' jabs and jokes about the IT industry. There are some laugh-out-loud moments about software licenses. As an author, I'm jealous of Haynes' ability to juggle multiple viewpoint characters so smoothly. That's a skill I'm still working on, but he goes back and forth from Clunk to Hal to several of his villains, all so smoothly you barely notice the transitions.
Hal Spacejock: Second Course is another page-turner. It's a fun, action-filled read. If you liked the first book, you'll like the second. For myself, I believe some of my issues are matters of personal taste. Like before, I would encourage folks to at least head over to the author's website and read the first chapter online to see if this is your brand of quirky space humor.