The Last House in the Galaxy
by Andy Secombe
Review by John Berlyne
Tor Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 140504618x
Date: 20 May, 2005 List Price £10.9 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Comic SF and fantasy have long been an important cornerstone of genre fiction and a good job too! This kind of writing is something we do particularly well in the UK and most of our major publishers here have at least one author practicing this art, each vying for our pocket money and our attention. To compete with the likes of Robert Rankin, Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett and the late Douglas Adams, to name but a few, Tor UK recruited Andy Secombe, whose third novel, The Last House in the Galaxy, absolutely cements his place amongst the ranks of these hugely popular authors.
Secombe comes from interesting stock--he was for many years a well established actor--perhaps his best known work was as Watto in the recent round of Star Wars movies. He is also the son of the late Sir Harry Secombe, goon and comedy legend--but now with three novels under his belt, he is firmly established in his own right and though I see its usefulness as a marketing tool, I hope his publishers will now feel safe in dispensing with the "son of" and Star Wars tags.
The Last House in the Galaxy is a very silly and wonderfully engaging work. It is also shamelessly magpie-like in its approach, borrowing ideas and plot elements from myriad sources. Like the two Limbo stories that preceded it, this is a kitchen-sink novel, by which I mean there really is a bit of everything thrown in. Secombe isn't trying to astound us with his originality here--instead he's having huge fun making up his story and is inviting us to share in this--and ironically, the result is one of astounding originality!
The premise here is of a galactic war between two factions. The Gologons are an aggressive race intent on spreading their strictly coded moralistic faith across the galaxy. Opposing them is, well, everybody else really--a resistance of apparently unified races, headed up by core group of operatives under the command of General Glaak. If you think this sounds like it may be in danger of having any kind of serious basis, think again. The Gologon armies are headed by a despot with a penchant for women's underwear, the resistance is little more than a bunch of insane and unlikely aliens whose leader General Glaak is a pipe-smoking rat!
The key to who has the upper hand in all this comes in the form of the Helian Cartogram--a McGuffin that appears to be a map of the universe that God himself used during creation. Quite how this object fits into the story isn't clear, but this doesn't really matter one bit. It's a plot device designed to get everyone running around and that's all we need to know. Glaak masterminds the theft of this Cartogram, sending in his number one agent, Matt Fripp to lift it from under the noses of the bad guys. With the Cartogram in their possession, the resistance can plan their next move and they chose as the location for their council a nicely run down country estate in the Home Counties complete with a sherry-tippling lady of the house and a stiff-upper-lipped butler. It is this bringing together of such unlikely bedfellows that creates the great entertainment in Secombe's writing.
The Last House in the Galaxy is far from being a tidy or tightly plotted piece, instead it is eclectic, eccentric and often bizarre and this is its charm. Secombe is one of those people that can open his fridge to find only a can of tuna, a tub of yogurt and a carrot, and yet come up with a great recipe!