Saucerers and Gondoliers is a fun romp through space with two British teens, Cleo and Ant. We meet the two of them off the side of the motorway, where it’s apparent that Ant’s father is loading his eighteen wheeler with illegally purchased goods. When Ant asks his father what’s being loaded into the truck, he answers “green diesel” – and then the deal starts to go sour. Ant, based on previous experience, takes Cleo off into the woods to get away from the deal his dad is trying to close.
And then Ant and Cleo encounter another example of a man trying to load up a vehicle with ill-gotten goods. Only this one is a flying saucer. Cleo and Ant have gone from a truck loaded with contraband to a flying saucer loaded with it. They have all the luck!
Before long, the two of them find themselves flying through space with their saucer’s captain who is unconscious from his injuries. With no idea of where they are headed, they survive on the crisps and foodstuffs loaded on the saucer, and have a moment of panic when they stop flying and are just…wherever they are. Adrift, with their pilot unconscious.
This sets up my favorite exchange in the book. It cracked me up when I read it, and I kept going back to it:
The alien saucer turned side-on to the light, and Ant saw a faded emblem stenciled across its side. A star in a circle, two rows of stripes like wings, and the letters USASN.
“We’re saved!” he said. “It’s friendly!”
“How do you know it’s friendly?”
“It must be friendly! It’s American!”
This leads Ant and Cleo to the settlement of Croatoan of the New Dixie colony, which is inhabited by the worst examples of Southern Americans possible. Nearly everyone Ant and Cleo encounter here are parodies (I hope they are parodies) of ignorant, racist rednecks who are frozen in pre-civil rights era thinking.
On the one hand, I find it amusing. On the other–maybe it’s some bias on my part as a reader living in the American South–it’s really, really annoying. The only thing that made the residents of Coatoan bearable is that later the Soviet Russians and then Brits that the kids encounter are also all caricatures (though the Brits are perhaps less obnoxious); everyone is equally two dimensional.
Ant and Cleo’s adventures in space opens up several questions about the beginning of the US space program that turns into the Colonies of the United States in space and the United States of the Zodiac with no resolution. Cleo and Ant (and their eventual +1 from Croatoan, Glenn Bob) find out about the mysterious Saucerers, who may or may not exist, and then…nothing. No resolution or exploration of the mystery.
Their romp in space is fun, and I was entertained. Ant and Cleo are clever and entertaining teens. It was easy to read the whole story as a tongue-in-cheek mockery of the space adventures of old. It felt more like a series of encounters than a thoughtful story, though. This thing happens. And then this! And clever humor at the expense of the Americans and Soviets and generally not bright adults! So I wouldn’t pick this up if you are looking for thinky thoughts. It is entertaining, though. Just not deep.
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