Liz Bourke and Adrienne Martini Review You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo
You Sexy Thing, Cat Rambo (Tor 978-1-250-26930-0, $25.99, 304pp, hc) September 2021.
You Sexy Thing, Cat Rambo’s first space opera novel, is in fact a romp. If you’re the kind of person who likes Mass Effect, or enjoyed Valerie Valdes’s Chilling Effect and Prime Deceptions, or fell head-over-heels for Tim Pratt’s Axiom trilogy (The Wrong Stars and sequels), then this book is definitely for you. This is a fast, zippy novel that hides some surprisingly substantial emotional heavy lifting under its hood.
Rambo is perhaps best known for her short fiction, with over 200 stories published, and multiple awards and award nominations. A former editor of Fantasy Magazine (2007-2011) and President of SFWA, recent years have seen the publication of the first two books in her Tabat Quartet, a series of fantasy novels set in and around a fantastical city. You Sexy Thing brings the precision and fire of good short fiction, the careful economy of language, to the length of a novel, and it sprinkles in a soupcon of fantasy into its space operatic shenanigans, for an extra treat.
Captain Niko Larsen is perhaps the greatest military mind ever to avoid being absorbed by the Holy Hive Mind. She and some of her surviving troops got out of the Holy Hive Mind’s military through the only loophole available to them: they became artists. Kitchen artists: their art is cookery, and their restaurant – the Last Chance, on TwiceFar station – is the first step in a plan that Niko’s had years, if not decades, in the making, a plan that has nothing at all to do with cooking.
Niko’s crew is Dabry, a former sergeant and a genius in the kitchen; the many-tentacled Skidoo; the shifter brothers Thorn and Talon (who’re quite young, very energetic, and can transform into giant cats); and Gio, who communicates through sign. Also Milly, who joined them after they got the restaurant going, and Lassite, a Sessile mystic-priest who sees the future and believes that Niko is on something he calls a Spiral of Destiny. He’s right, which isn’t much help to Niko most of the time.
On the day the Last Chance is supposed to play host to one of the galaxy’s most famous restaurant critics, a critic whose recommendation could make or break the team’s actual survival, three things happen in succession: Niko receives a delivery of a person in stasis – who turns out to be a young woman called Atlanta, one of the potential heirs to the Paxian empire – and a top-of-the-line bioship owned by a billionaire who wants to eat with the restaurant critic docks at the space station. And the station blows up.
Together with the restaurant critic and Niko’s unexpected parcel, the crew find themselves on board the billionaire’s ship, You Sexy Thing, with no control over their destination. The initial heading is for a prison planet, on account of the fact that the bioship is programmed to do just that with people it thinks is trying to steal it, and the crew is convinced that this will be an annoying and slightly perilous bureaucratic snafu to sort out. But then they’re diverted to pirate space, which is not a good thing.
Niko’s been to pirate space before. She’s always meant to go back. With a plan, and a lot of guns, not as cargo. The last time she was in pirate space, she broke a lot of things trying to rescue someone else, and failed comprehensively. And the leader of the pirates is the kind to hold grudges. Vicious grudges. Niko has her wits and her crew, and is about to come face to face with a piece of her past that’s haunted her for years. At this point, even escape is starting to look unobtainable.
But You Sexy Thing isn’t a grim and despairing sort of book. It’s fast, pulpy, and explosive – and full of feeling. Alongside the pulp adventure is a nuanced consideration of responsibility, personal ethics, class, and the nature of art. Also, all the talk about food made me hungry.
Great characters, an entertaining setting, and plenty of hints that the story doesn’t end here: You Sexy Thing might not have the most evocative title, but it’s an utter delight. I recommend it wholeheartedly. Give me the sequel now, please.
This review and more like it in the July 2021 issue of Locus.
If you are looking for a fun space opera (that also has moments of absolute terror), Cat Rambo’s You Sexy Thing is a great choice. The fact that the title is an homage to a saucy Tom Jones song, which also becomes a tangential plot point, should give you a hint what the tone is here.
Niko, a former Admiral in the Holy Hive Mind, now runs a restaurant on TwiceFar station. Said restaurant is about to visited by a critic who has the power to award the place the equivalent of a Michelin star. The story opens with Niko and a staff full of former soldiers making everything perfect for this dinner. Events unfold in unexpected ways, as you’d expect if you’re a reader, and the crew finds themselves on a run across the known galaxy.
Apart from the breakneck plot, what really stands out is how many nods to other bits of SF/F works Rambo squeezes in. There’s a lot of Farscape in here, as is the mysticism of Star Wars and the humor of Hitchhiker’s Guide. Some of the names will cause an eyebrow raise – my fave was a planet called “Emshwills” – and three-quarters of the book feels familiar, not in a carbon copy-way but in a remixed and remastered way. Has Rambo created something right on the cutting edge of the genre? Nope. But what they have created is a cozy-with-a-soupçon-of-suspense hoot-and-a-half.
This review and more like it in the August 2021 issue of Locus.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, her Patreon, or Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.
Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.
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