Human brains are harvested by aliens as one of the most potent drugs in the universe. To stop this drug trafficking, the Intergalactic Narcs destroyed the Earth and wiped out most of the human race. The few remaining humans spread across the galaxy are hunted for their brains. One crew of human space pirates, led by the nymphomaniac Callista Chrome, fight for survival in their constant searches for sex and drugs when Callista finds a way to possibly save the remaining humans of the universe.
“’Fuck science,’ she snarled. ‘Science is for people who can’t handle drugs.’”
It may be unfair to compare this book to Goodfellow’s prior works, but I found myself unable to separate it from his other recent books, Sleazeland and Unamerica. Like those books, he takes a familiar set up, in this case a pulply space opera, and puts his own twisted, unique spin on it. The deep interest in chemically induced altered mind states is certainly there as in Unamerica as is the theme of deep disillusion as in Sleazeland. My biggest problem is that both of those books explored those ideas far better and more deeply. In many ways, this feels like Goodfellow unwinding after the incredibly ambitious Unamerica with a goofy comedy. It’s much shorter and much simpler with a mostly picaresque plot line of the space pirates going from one strange science fiction set piece to the next. While he comes up with some creative and hilarious ideas, like bionic sex platypuses, I found it difficult to get invested.
While Callista, the main character and easily the most memorable one, does undergo some development towards the end, for the most part her and rest of crew are just idiots and assholes. It’s a premise that’s a bit too obvious, especially for author as creative as Goodfellow. Make all the characters terrible people and watch them make terrible decisions. It also doesn’t help that I couldn’t find myself getting invested in any character except Callista. Thankfully, he keeps this from seeming too hacky by having some genuinely funny moments.
He makes the picaresque structure work, making all the sections seem as if they fit within the same universe. The beginning when the crew kidnaps a dying pharaoh from an planet modeled after ancient Egypt doesn’t feel at all out of place with later moments, such as when they visit a theme park planet meant to be a theme park recreation of Earth with ridiculous things such as everyone dressing as a celebrity and all the streets and buildings resembling New York City. Towards the end, however, the plot takes a strange (though not so strange by Goodfellow standards) and somewhat out of place turn when Callista finds herself in the body of a traumatized ex-stripper at her high school reunion. It’s a dark moment that would work very well as a short story by itself, but feels very misplaced in this story.
Review copy provided
Scum of the Earth is an often entertaining read, but by the high standards of Cody Goodfellow's work, this feels like a lesser entry. Fans of science fiction comedies will likely enjoy this, but it wouldn't be the first of Goodfellow's work I recommend to someone unfamiliar with his work. Still, if all you want is a quick and funny read, you can't go wrong with this.