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Having recently lost his partner, Milli is looking for nothing less than peace and quiet when he visits the estate of the intimidating Sir Angus Wermacht. When his body is stolen, Milli and his friends must embark on a cunning plan to get it back...
Confessions of a Gentleman Arachnid (2015. 312 pages) is a comedic science fiction novel, written by Michael Coolwood. The reverse of the book states that Coolwood was raised on a diet of Terry Pratchett, P.G. Woodhouse and Douglas Adams, a triumvirate of comedy luminaries and a high bar at which to set your work.
There has been, recently, a move to mash up genres, probably the most successful being, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) by Seth Grahame-Smith, which is in the process of being made into a film. Where this novel worked, and where Confessions does not, is in the realm of world building.
Zombies was a successful parody because it took an existing world and changes a single element by introducing Zombies. Confessions, on the other hand has real problems with its internal logic. Coolwood posits a galaxy ruled by Arachnids, whose culture is totally copied from P.G. Woodhouse’s Jeeves and Wooster novels, and reflects the fictitious morals, speech patterns and mores of an England in an undefined 1920’s 1930’s.
Milli and his culture have taken whole heartedly this way of living. Now, this would make some kind of sense if either humans did not exist in the book, or there were some reason that the Arachnids had based their culture on a particular set of novels, not unlike Star Trek’s A Piece of the Action (1968). But the fact is that human culture does exist, Milli continually misquotes from a plethora of sources from Kafka to Shakespeare, and for the most part Milli sees little or no value in this, although this view is somewhat flexible, depending on the needs of the plot. Nor does Coolwood attempt a social satire in the vein of Swift or Orwell, at best the book represents a romp, heavily indebted to Woodhouse.
So, what are we to make of the book? On the one hand, Woodhouse fans may well enjoy the low level naiveté which is a feature of a Woodhouse novel and displayed by Milli throughout his quest to retrieve his rightful body, ably assisted by his butler, though what these readers will make of the tacked on science fiction elements only they will know.
As science fiction it has too many logical holes. Milli society has the ability to transfer consciousness, at the point of death, much the same as the human Cylon’s did. However, they have taken this one step forward and Bainbridge who purloins Milli’s body had already emergency downloaded himself into a human body, wiping out the bodies personality. I can accept that as different species that the arachnids may care less what happens to humans, but when he steals Milli’s body there seems to be no laws in place to punish such behaviour, hence Milli’s need to go on his romp to recover his own property. Here we come to the reverse problem, are there enough science fiction fans who also love Woodhouse?
The book is not badly written, but I do wonder what the focus was supposed to be? If it were, which it is, a novel aping Woodhouse’s style to write an amusing book, that alone would be fine. If its intention was to write a funny science fiction novel, that would also have been fine, but the ghost of Woodhouse spoils this. It’s a brave juxtaposition of style and content, I’m just not that convinced that the two work well together.