STARSHIP FOR SALE by M.R. Forbes is a delightful homage to THE LAST STARFIGHTER and EXPLORERS, which is a movie I bet you probably haven’t heard of. The premise is Ben Murdock, a teenage boy who finds out that he has cancer, finds himself contacted by a strange man who claims that he has an actual shapeship for sale. Having nothing to lose but time, Ben goes to visit this individual with his best friend Matt, and discovers that the offer is all too real.
I really enjoyed this book. I was a big fan of M.R. Forbes’ Mindfracked so I was intrigued when I saw he’d also done a space opera. Isekai stories where heroes enter fantasy worlds are pretty common but the science fiction equivalent where a young man is taken into outer space is less so. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is the most famous example but it’s still pretty rare.
Much of the first half of the book is getting Ben to the point where he’s willing to take a chance on an offer as obviously insane as the one presented to him by Keep. Ben has to endure cancer, a chance encounter at a virtual reality video game arcade, and his friend revealing he’s inherited millions before he’s fully onboard. Even then, he only accepts after an appropriate amount of evidence that this insane situation is real. I appreciate M.R. Forbes taking the time to ease audiences into this despite the fact most of us would have been likely to accept events on the title alone.
Unfortunately, the galaxy turns out to be a not particularly nice place. I really liked M.R. Forbes justification for why it is filled with humans, though. Apparently, humans from the future went through a wormhole and ended up colonizing the galaxy in the past. It’s so ridiculous and absurd that I used something similar in my Star Trek Adventures game. I love when science fiction jiggles around the whole fossil record and evolutionary history of the planet.
The bigger problem than the galaxy being colonized by an insane and violent race of nutters (humans) is the fact it is also a feudalist future like Dune. There’s Empresses, Dukes, Duchesses, and Barons as well as all that other stuff we’ve since left behind. Unfortunately, that comes with an insane and evil warlord who wants the micro-star inside their newly acquired starship. Oh and it turns out that they owe some seriously expensive storage fees on their machine, ones they have no way of paying and the punishment is death for.
I enjoy the fact our protagonists are flat broke once they get into space. It turns out rather than being like Star Trek, poor Ben and Matt are going to be living more like Han Solo. Thankfully, they have the help of a shapechanging (?) alien who used to be an assassin. Yeah, I don’t think they signed up for the right space opera. I like that despite the silly premise, our heroes are rapidly confronted with the Firefly-esque realities of living in space. They even try to be pragmatic about things and offer to sell the Macguffin to the bad guy but, of course, he sees no reason to pay when he can just take.
There’s a lot of great world-building and characterization here. This is a setup story, mostly, and ends on a cliffhanger but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s hard to sell me on a new series when there’s already so much good stuff out there but I am intrigued by the setup here and the characters. If I have one regret, it’s the fact that Ben doesn’t bring along the girl he asked on a date into space.