REVIEW: Notes from Small Planets by Nate Crowley

One thing I love about speculative fiction is the way that the stories we love also introduce us to interesting worlds that differ to lesser or greater extent from our familiar existence. Over time, these worlds have, despite their near infinite divergence developed certain common types and it’s these archetypical worlds that Notes from Small Planets guides us across.

Neatly evading all sorts of copyright, license and otherwise litigious hazards, Nate Crowley has crafted a guide book of sorts to nine of these archetypical worlds which will all be instantaneously familiar, yet with the names changed to protect the innocent (author.)

Within the pages of Notes from Small Planets there is fantasy-land, or Mittelvelde (seriously,) superhero city, the maritime adventurers of Spume, a cursory allusion to steampunk, an expansive section dedicated to SPACE, a golden age of cinema playground where characters looking a lot like Conan & Tarzan might meet Dan Dare and fight a T-Rex, a wildly unsubtle version of the Potterverse, the ubiquitous post-apocalyptic Wasteland and a delightful easter egg of sorts in the uttermost West.

Fans of everything from Star Trek to Game of Thrones, Mad Max to the Avengers and beyond will see something of their beloved secondary worlds in Notes from Small Planets.

Notes from Small Planets is a love letter to the worldbuilding of fantasy fiction that delights in poking affectionate fun at established tropes and popular works. That’s great fun in itself, but the presentation in the form of a guide book, complete with local customs, itineraries and brief histories of these chimerical realms is a fun way to present it.

Where it REALLY levels up, is that the whole thing is presented as the travel journals of ‘former diplomat, journalist and television personality’ Floyd Watt, with the commentary of his long suffering editor Eliza Salt included in the footnotes.

Watt comes across as a mix between Harry Flashman, Hunter S. Thompson and Keith Floyd and imagining him blagging his way across these fantasy realms, jotting down his dubious observations about their curious inhabitants with a total lack of self awareness is great fun (as are Eliza’s exasperated comments.)

Truth be told, fans of solely grimdark fiction might find slim pickings in Notes from Small Planets, as grimdark takes up relatively little real estate across the broader pantheon of the fantastical. However, there are some excellent digs at grimdark targets such as the fantasy kingdom of Fysteros which has a perpetual civil war over a metal chair or the semi-mythical Wasteland figure ‘mental Derek.’

I was a little disappointed that horror settings don’t show up in Notes from Small Planets as they seem ripe for this sort of treatment. This might be because they’re a little too close to ‘real life’  but that doesn’t make sense when we already have a city of heroes and world of wizards. Perhaps a distinct choice to keep things family friendly? I’d be interested in reading about the horror world…

I had great fun leafing through Notes from Small Planets and I suspect it would make a great stocking filler for the fantasyphile in your family.

4/5

Read Notes from Small Planets by Nate Crowley

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Chris Napier

Chris Napier lives in Glasgow, Scotland with his wife, two young sons and a head full of utter nonsense. An ecumenical geek, he especially delights in stories of hope in dark places and finding beauty in desolation. In between writing his own stories and posting to his Chaotic Good Story Club, he attends the Glasgow SF Writers Circle and contributes to Big Comic Page and Grimdark Magazine.