#REVIEW: ¬†You Sexy Thing, by Cat Rambo

A couple of disclaimers, provisos, quid pro quos, etcetera before I begin this piece: First, I was sent this as an ARC by the publisher in return for a good honest review, although now that I’ve read it I’m going to spend my own actual money and buy a copy. Second, although there is literally no chance that either of us remembers it, Cat Rambo and I have probably met! You see, Cat used to work at The Griffon, a gaming shop in downtown South Bend (the second oldest such place in America, as it turns out) and I have been a semiregular customer there for roughly thirty-five years. I’m not sure what years Cat worked there or how often they worked when that was their job, but it’s hard to imagine either being especially long-term without us crossing paths at least once or twice, and The Griffon being the store it is, that probably means we’ve had an actual conversation or two. This isn’t going to affect my review, of course– you’re about to find out that this book has “Luther will like this” baked into the premise, pun fully intended– but it’s interesting.

The premise of this book has been described as “Farscape meets The Great British Baking Show,” and for many of you– certainly for me– that description may be salient enough to immediately attract attention. I can’t see a sci-fi book compared to my favorite TV show (seriously) and not immediately be interested in reading it. And the comparison isn’t unreasonable, either; while the majority of the characters used to be part of the same military unit, they are all retired and run a restaurant at the beginning of the book, and they have found themselves in a position where they may be eligible to earn the restaurant something called a Nikkelin Orb, which had me giggling from the moment I first saw the phrase. (If the joke escapes you, Google “Michelin Star,” or you could just click the link, I guess.)

Anyway, all hell breaks loose, and their restaurant gets blown up, and they sort of steal an expensive, intelligent bioship which immediately decides it’s been for-real stolen and starts to fly them off to a prison planet so that it can turn them in for stealing it, and then they discover that the Empress appears to have frozen one of her heirs and mailed her to them, and then things get even weirder, if you can believe that. The crew includes a chimp with a taste for explosives who only communicates via sign language, a hypersexual, polyamorous squid-thing, their four-armed, eight-foot master chef, a pastry chef who as near as I can tell is a more selfish & predatory version of Big Bird, and two twin were-lions.

So the characters are great, and the way they interact is great, and the hints at wider worldbuilding from what parts of this world we get to see are fantastic (I want more books in this series, and I want them now,) and my only real gripe is actually that the book could have been maybe 50-75 pages longer, as some story points get kind of glossed over quickly, to the point where occasionally I had to stop and reread a page to make sure that what I thought had just happened had actually happened in, like, a sentence and not an entire chapter. Rambo manages to deftly balance a light, Douglas-Adamsesque comedic tone for decent chunks of the book with a villain who ends up pretty genuinely terrifying and some moments of real sadness and pathos. I just wanted more of it, and at 285 or so pages this is a pretty quick read. I feel like it wouldn’t have outstayed its welcome at 350-400 pages, but I’ll trade a shorter book for future sequels if I absolutely have to.

One way or another, this is definitely something I’m going to recommend, and I can easily imagine myself mentioning it again in a week and a half or so when I put my best-of list together for this year. Go check it out.

An addendum to the previous post

It only just hit me that this thing I’m about to describe actually happened, and it feels a trifle tonally inappropriate to add it to the post about Sarah, but nonetheless I need to tell you, so two posts: I went to the comic shop today, as I do every Wednesday. Since I’ve changed schools I no longer pick my son up after school and take him with me; my wife picks him up instead. Sometimes I buy him some random thing from the comic store just for the hell of it, and today I bought him a blind box toy called a Cryptkin. If you aren’t familiar with blind boxes, they are toys that you are effectively buying at random– the box is closed and you can’t see what’s inside, so you might get something new or you might accidentally get something you already have.

(They are a terrible idea, and I can’t believe I encourage their existence by occasionally buying them for my son. But that’s another post.)

When I got home, he opened it, as one might expect.

And … well:

RIP, Sarah Bird, the Griffon Lady

It’s been kind of a rough week.

Yesterday was … day nine, I think, of this school year? And there were three fights, two of which involved at least one of my students and both of which I was involved in breaking up. They are the first fights of the year that I’m aware of; in general, this building seems substantially less violent than others I have worked in, but breaking up two hallway fights in the space of two class periods is not a situation I care to repeat anytime soon, and you can likely imagine the condition the kids were in by the end of the day. It was bloody miserable.

Today, the power went out for the back half of the day, throwing basically every aspect of the building into … well, not chaos, as honestly I feel like everyone involved dealt with the problem as well as could be hoped for, but we lost just about everything– wifi, phones, half of the toilets, a number of the sinks, all of the drinking fountains, and oh hey it turns out that every calculator in the world being solar powered isn’t a great thing if you deliberately picked the room with one window and all the light you have is from that one window and the one light wired to the emergency generator. So, no, not chaos, but a whole lot of scrambling was going on.

And then, during my team plan at the end of the day, while attempting to find an article about ILEARN testing that two of us thought was on the Tribune website somewhere, I discovered Sarah Bird passed away this weekend, and I found myself unexpectedly somewhat overcome with emotion and having to take a moment.

It’s funny, how the passing of relative strangers can hit us hard sometimes. I have been shopping at the Griffon for something in the neighborhood of thirty years– I don’t remember the two original stores, as I started playing D&D in fifth grade, which would have been somewhere around 1988. Virtually every RPG rulebook I own was purchased there, and a bunch of our board games, as after a while I developed a rule that anything that could be bought at the Griffon would be bought at the Griffon, and I probably grace their doors somewhere in the neighborhood of once or twice a year. I am not a regular customer, per se, but I am certainly a long-time customer, and the fact that the same two people had run the store for the entire time is sort of hard to miss.

I’ve had several pleasant conversations with both Ken and Sarah over the years– the Griffon is the kind of store where you don’t really just buy something and wander out– but I’m sure neither of them would recognize me, and to be completely honest I’m not sure I could have remembered their first names yesterday had you asked me, as they’ve been “the Griffon guy” and “the Griffon lady” since I was a little kid. I certainly didn’t know her last name, but I recognized their picture and the interior of the store before my brain had processed the headline on the website. I’ve never actually played anything there– my gaming group always had places to go– but it’s weird to have to explain to people how difficult it could be to be a geek thirty years ago when we damn near run the world nowadays. There was no Amazon, remember. If you were a young geek and you wanted dice or miniatures or wargaming models or whatever, it was just where you went, because nobody else bothered to carry that stuff. The Griffon was always a safe space where people like me were welcome, and the place still just sort of feels like home even though I don’t necessarily shop there terribly often.

Sarah is one of those people who had an effect on my life without me ever really thinking about it before now– if she and her husband had never opened that store, and I’d never gotten into roleplaying in fifth grade, my life could have been substantially different from what it is now. They don’t even know me, and it’s still true. All through high school and into college a lot of my friendships were people in my gaming group– not all of them, certainly, but my closest friends were all people I played D&D with. And the Griffon was a common thing for all of us, our little secret downtown that most of the other kids our age didn’t know about. It was (it is; as near as I can tell there are no plans to close the store) a genuinely special place, and that’s all due to Sarah and Ken.

She will be missed.