Space Academy Dropouts by C.T. Phipps and Michael Suttkus is a fun sci-fi adventure that combines high stakes and lowbrow humour all rounded off with a cast of diverse, mostly insane, characters. At the centre of the story is Vance Turbo, a boldly-named protagonist who is press-ganged into an apparently expendable crew tasked with saving humanity or die trying.
Vance Turbo embodies the stereotype of a lovable rogue. Whip-smart and irreverent when he needs to be, Vance is a straight-up good guy who wants no harm to come to anybody, even those who repeatedly try to kill him. However, there’s a touch of the Mary Sue-type persona to him which is a bit annoying. He excels at everything and often succeeds despite his best efforts, all while bouncing from one insane situation to the next.
The fate of the human race hangs in the balance as Vance and his crew of misfits and ne’er-do-wells get Shanghaied into a mission to find weapons capable of destroying solar systems all while not attracting the attention of the elder races; mysterious beings who are essentially gods with the old “sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from magic” who enjoy wiping out any lesser species that dare to rise above their station.
A large cast of supporting characters populates Vance’s world. From bugs to hulking-yet-nice brutes, the wider universe is brimming with races with their own quirks. I particularly enjoyed Trish, the ship’s AI. She vaguely reminded me of the female version of Holly from Red Dwarf. Trish having a little “bunny-boiler” level of obsession with Vance is fun, doubly so with the body she picks to inhabit.
One other thing I enjoyed was the telepathic races who were constantly reading Vance’s mind. It leant… I don’t know if “fourth wall-breaking cheekiness” is the right term, but it meant Vance could be thinking of something and other characters could respond or make a snarky comment. It was a useful trick to get a quick laugh while not slowing down the pace.
Actually it’s worth calling that out. Phipps and Suttkus balanced humour, entertainment, plot, and countless pop culture references without getting the story bogged down. The whole thing flowed along well.
Jeffrey Kafer suited the character of Vance and some of the other space marines, though he lacked the range to have a distinct cast of characters. I did on occasion get who was speaking mixed up. Production was good though, with no noticeable errors or background noises.
So to sum it all up, this was an entertaining sci-fi adventure with lots to like. There are two other books available in the series, and I’d enjoy more adventures of Vance and the crew so I’ll pick them up in the future.