Dyson’s Fear, the first of Farnell’s new Fermi’s Progress novellas, is a delightful science fiction romp. Highly self-aware and delightfully silly in places, the main impression I came away with was how dark it was below all its flippancy. This is absolutely sci-fi comedy, in the tradition of Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf, but Farnell seems to take the darker aspects of both of those and give it that extra special twist. What you end up with here is a humour that sits possibly closer to Inside No. 9 or Black Mirror, whilst remaining a highly readable, entertaining adventure throughout.
Farnell’s writing style is a sheer pleasure. From the start, the narrative voice draws you into the story; true, it draws you in to kill you, but it draws you in all the same. The sardonic, cold humour of the narration is part of what makes this story so very enjoyable to read: much like Adams, Farnell takes the time to dwell over his twisted sense of humour and turns of phrase and what you get as a result is a highly quotable, buzzing narrative – this is a story that really deserves to be given the audio drama treatment – if it did, the real star would be the narrator who would have to be played by someone who specialises in cold deadpan: someone like Mark Gatiss.
Beyond the authorial voice, the main thing that will strike the reader is the unexpectedly twisting style of the narrative. I read the novel without reading the blurb beforehand, and the result was that I had no idea what was going to go on. Instead, I was treated to what felt almost like a cross between a spy thriller and a very traditional science fiction story. And in some ways, at first at least, this is two separate stories, one before the ship launches, which focuses heavily on character building, and one set on a brand new alien world. These separate stories gradually weave themselves together until we get to the climax of the first narrative and we finally discover quite what a predicament our ‘heroes’ find ourselves in.
I say ‘heroes’, but as the narrative acknowledges, for all the various exceptional strengths and fascinating origin stories of our lead characters, this is a story very much in the time honoured tradition of hapless amateur adventurers in out of their depth. The story’s conclusion only adds to that, and sets us up for what promises to be a wonderful series that deserves to become a cult classic.