Book Review: The Cosmic Bomber by William F. Wu
Because nobody asked for it, it’s time for another Dr. Bones novel!
It’s kind of funny how I’ve gotten into this series. Not because they’re particularly good, but rather because I find the concept of the series fairly interesting. Y’see, back in the 80’s, Byron Preiss Visual Publications got comics artist Jim Steranko to sketch out some quick character designs for them. These sketches (which are included in the back of some of the books) in turn served as the basis of Dr. Bones, Space Archeologist.
A bunch of different science fiction writers were then tapped to write these books, and now, over twenty years later, I’m slowly working my way through the series. It’s hard to create a multimedia franchise from scratch– and the fact that there’s not a Dr. Bones movie coming out this December shows that you can’t just snap your fingers and expect to create The Next Big Thing(tm).
Incidentally, this isn’t the first William F. Wu book I’ve read– he also wrote a book for that time-traveling Asimov robot series. Guy gets around!
So yeah. The Dr. Bones books are stupidly obscure, which appeals to my inner hipster-nerd. And yet, with their silver-framed covers, they tend to stand out in used bookstores. And again, I have to make the comparison between the covers and old Konami game boxes.
I fear that the booksellers may be onto me, though. Where I snagged Journey to Rilla for 99 cents, I think I spent like three dollars to get The Cosmic Bomber. Highway robbery!
But I guess I should talk about the book, right?
The Cosmic Bomber is the second in the series– Dr. Bones is an actual doctor now, complete with his own spaceship, crew, and professorship at New Yale. After giving a lecture on how asteroid impacts can influence a world’s evolution (think the extinction of the dinosaurs giving way to the rise of mammals), Dr. Bones hears about a planet way off on the edge of known space that’s threatened by a comet impact. And so, Dr. Bones loads up his crew (including the girl with the poofy shoulders and that squeebly bug monster on the cover) and zips off to investigate! Oh, and occasionally people try to kill him without much success.
Dr. Bones makes it to planet wherever using a FTL drive that I don’t recall being mentioned in the earlier book. Like, there was mention of a ‘special’ drive, but The Cosmic Bomber details it out thusly:
“The entire team was experienced at invariance overdrive aboard the Ostrom. It was a rare and highly expensive piece of technology, but the concept was simple enough. The ship would aim for the current location of Thomsen 4, or more precisely as close in space as it could get safely. With the crew in hibertation, it would travel in normal time to that spot. By the time it arrived, of course, the planet would have moved to another point in space. However, the Ostrom would then jump backward in time to the moment of departure, when Thomsen 4 was still near the point in space where the Ostrom appeared.” (Page 37)
Writing it out now makes it a little more coherent … but at the same time, the throwaway mention of time travel got my inner nitpicking nerd going. Seriously, you can’t just toss out mention of time travel and then not touch it for the rest of the book. I mean, sure, it’s a halfway clever way to step around relativity and stuff like that … but on the other hand, having ready access to a time machine spaceship is the kind of thing that you could write an entire series about. (Said series is called Dr. Who).
Anyway, Dr. Bones and his buds blunder around planet wherever for a bit, and meet a race of primitive alien wolfmen called the Arrs. The Arrs, sadly, are not space pirates. Dr. Bones then gets chased around by some bad guys who are stealing ‘artifacts’ from the Arrs before their planet gets smashed with a comet, and it turns out that said bad guys are working for the villain of the previous novel, who … doesn’t actually show up in this book. Oh, and the bad guy also sabotaged the efforts to divert the comet because he’s a compulsive gambler who wanted to place bets on it? Which … well, it’s a deliciously petty reason to be evil, but Wu never really runs with it. And, of course, Dr. Bones and his buddies save the day by the end. Yay?
There are a couple of laser fights, both planetary and in spaceships, but I never really got any sense of danger out of the adventures. I think the biggest flaw in The Cosmic Bomber is the lack of a real villain. I mean, there’s whats-his-face pulling the strings from the other side of the galaxy, but all of his henchmen actually carrying out his scheme are anonymous. The addition of some evil, scenery-chewing henchman would’ve gone a long way in making The Cosmic Bomber a better read. Maybe they should’ve leaned into the ‘bomber’ thing a little more, and used that one dude from The Tick.
All and all, The Cosmic Bomber is a bit underwhelming. I mean, the other books in the series aren’t high literature by any means, but I enjoyed the other ones I read a little more than this one. The Cosmic Bomber isn’t problematic or anything, it’s just a bit … dull. But then again, if you just get handed a couple of basic character sketches and get told ‘hey write a book about these dudes!’ there’s not much to run with. Ah well, I guess that’s what I get for being a completionist.