“Birdy, birdy in the sky, Why’d you do that in my eye? Aren’t you glad that cows don’t fly?”
Steal the Space Shuttle Enterprise, refit and launch her into space – all for a reality TV show? It takes a mad sort of brilliance to even think of this, let alone write a book that’s so chock-full of hi-jinx, satire and fun that there’s simply no time for disbelief.
I put my hand up and admit that I’m a fan: Doug Sharp is my type of crazy. This is not just an “in-yer-face-I-love-space” adventure — this is a story with characters who are mad enough to believe they can steal a shuttle, transport it across the Atlantic and shoot it into space on a refurbished Russian rocket: Channel Zilch goes live, and Golden Age Science Fiction just got retro-cool.
Reality Television is a genre of television programming that documents unscripted situations and actual occurrences, and often features a previously unknown cast. The genre has various standard tropes, such as reality TV confessionals used by cast members to express their thoughts, which often double as the shows’ narration.
Our narrator is Mick Oolfson – good ol’ Minnesota boy and disgraced astronaut -who recounts his story with such candour that even when we’re faced with a cast that amuse, bemuse, disgust and entertain, we’re carried along with the undertow of Oolfson’s character: that he will do just about anything to ride a rocket back into space.
The foil to Mick’s homespun humanity is Heloise Chin – she occupies his fantasies while deconstructing his masculinity. Hel is a twisted beauty, a Geek-Grrrrl Goddess, a damaged child. She is a creature of spit and spirit with an agenda far beyond that of an audacious heist and TV reality show beamed from space. For Heloise Chin, the shuttle is just transport and Mick is a bus driver.
Old-white-men behaving badly, smart women, crazy Turks, metaphysical sea captains with unpronounceable names, bizarro Russian mobsters, insanely obsessed NASA Security chiefs, geek-goddesses, laugh-out-loud jokes, bad puns and good science: Zilch has ’em all.
Doug Sharp is a talented writer and he has packed so much knowledge into the background of Zilch that every time you think you’ve caught him in a gaff, he reveals a solution … and then picks up the pace. I recommend you switch off your internal critic, sit back and enjoy the ride.
There’s quite a few reviews out there already, and I expect a lot more once word gets out. I can recommend Dave Truesdale’s review on the SF Site. He said a lot of what I wanted to, only better. In any event, I’m pleased to know that I’ll be in good company when the second book of the series, Hel’s Bet, comes out in 2014.
Another reason I’m so excited to see Zilch out there and doing so well in the big wide, is that I had the rare opportunity of seeing an early draft and I have had some insight into what has gone into its creation.
Even as a draft, Zilch was a massive volume. As editor and publisher, Dario Ciriello of Panverse Publishing has done a fantastic job: Channel Zilch is polished without having lost one iota of Doug Sharp’s unusual and flavourful zest.
Finally, part of the revenue from the book’s sale goes to supporting the Central Pain Syndrome Foundation, of which Doug is a founding member, and himself a sufferer of CPS. To get an insight into what the author endures, I urge you to watch his Message From Hell.
It is at this point, I imagine Doug would like me to shift topics, and so I take this opportunity to point out that he does not officially advocate stealing space shuttles…
Seriously, I can’t wait to join Mick and the crew of the Space Shuttle Enterprise as they blast off on the next stage of their wild ride and if you enjoy books that are out of the ordinary, not to mention good fun, then tune in along with the rest of us:
ENTERPRISE IS GO!
Quick postscript to this review. Three years later, Doug kept his promise and delivered Hel’s Bet. Read my 2016 review on Goodreads.