The debut novel by Californian author Paul Bahou
LA, summer. Georgios Hassan is wearing leather pants at noon on a Tuesday in a bar in West Hollywood. He’s a heavy metal musician that only answers to the name of Lazers (‘with a z’ he will specify more than once along the book). He and his band, the Killer Orca almost made it, back in the days, but then grunge hit and so did families and personal stuff and they simply fizzled away. They continued to play, but more for pleasure and a hobby rather than with the dream of becoming famous rock starts who toured the world. Despite a series of misunderstandings and some very bad arguments, Lazer kept on the rocker bad boy aura: he wears leather pants no matter what the weather, lives in his van at the back of a bar where he’s a a regular, and always has sunglasses on.
One night, while Lazer is going back home, ‘a bit drunk but not so drunk’ as per his words, he falls and passes out on the pavement. When he wakes up, he is in an anonymous and unrecognisable white room. He’ll soon find out he woke up on the John Smith Seven, a missionary ship part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day, a space ship. An embarrassed and inexpert young and pretty woman welcomes him. She introduces herself as Qiti, and explains that it’s her first day as a converter of humans to the religion. What kind of religion, asks Lazer. We are the Smormons, replies Qiti. They are Mormons – same beliefs, same way of spreading the word of God – but in space, instead of Earth. Hence the name.
While Qiti is still making sure Lazer is fine and she is explaining to him a few basic concepts, an alarm goes off, creating some panic on board. A multi-legged behemoth, with hooks instead of paws, is attacking the ship and its population. It’s not possible, thinks Lazer. I must have fallen asleep and when I woke up I was somewhere in Vegas, he tries to convince himself. But when he looks out of the window, he realises he’a not: outside the sky is black and it’s the only thing he can see, along with stars. He is in deep space. When he meets Qiti again and asks her what’s going on, she tells him they are under pirate attack and tells him to be careful, but the pirates still manage to capture Lazer, confirming they have the asset.
Once peace is re-established on board, Qiti starts doing researche on the space ship computer, and she finds out that her ancestors descend from the human race, but they have been abducted many years before and genetically modified by a superior species to be used as cheap mining labour. They are known as ‘the Olympians’.
In the meanwhile, Lazer is brought to the Galactic Union. When he asks what it is, the answer he has from a pig named Miley Katy Obama-Kardashian sounds like a series of squeals that make no sense for Lazer. Apparently, humans and the human world are very liked, studied, copied and highly regarded in the Galactic Union:
‘pretty much all of the planets in a million light-years in any direction that host interstellar life are members,” she replied with a wide wave of her hoof. “And all of them use Earth culture in some way. Well, except for maybe the Cloud People of Gomnitak 7 who don’t really have ears or eyes or brains, and they’re mostly made out of water vapor, so they’re kind of hard to interact with—snort.
From Miley Katy Obama-Kardashian, Lazer discovers that they are at the market and they will probably be sold, as pets if they are lucky, as food if they are not. But since he is a human, he will probably be kept alive, the pig reassures him.
In the meantime, Qiti is still researching Dr Quant’s old files and medical cases. She was one of the Doctors on board of the Star of Zeus, an old research ship, and kept a video logs of her research, but then she stopped. Why did she? What happened after? In one of the security footage, she sees that Dr Quant is checking on a patient’s vital, a little girl inside a preservation capsule that keeps her in a suspended state. There is a small accident, the ship loses energy and Dr Quant is forced to check on the panels manually to restore its functions. When she is back in the medical bay, the patient is awake and the video stops.
Lazer is auctioned and bought by a demon called Gorlack, who has no intention at all to keep him as a pet. All the contrary. Gorlack brings him home to his wife and two kids to actually serve him as a delicacy for dinner. Sadly, and quite suddenly, Gorlack passes away right before eating Lazer, since the man blows a puff of cigarette smoke in his face. For non-humans this is lethal. In the general confusion that ensues, Lazer manages to escape with a companion, an Octopus-like creature named Streek who had also been bought to be consumed by Gorlack and his family. They are rescued by a Clicklaxia ship, whose commander is Dex Rotho, an Olympian. Here, Lazer discovers that Qiti is a highly technological and particularly advanced computer, created to translate the information contained on an ancient piece of technology, the Bakuma Key. Eventually, Dax and a band of mercenaries at her command set sail to hunt this precious treasure and Lazer will go with them, crossing a nice and variegated array of different creatures.
This weird ensemble of superior race tech and human objects somehow may remind the reader of ‘Back to the future – Part 2’, where what we know and what we can only imagine blends majestically, just like in the pages of ‘Sunset Distortion’. The lightness of the narrative, the fast actions, the paced plot and the numerous encounters also bring to mind ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, where a human is suddenly catapulted in space without batting an eyelid, just like Lazer, whose adventures will lead to an explosive, no holds barred final battle.
On a personal note, I really appreciated the rock music reference!
‘Sunset Distorsion’ is available for purchase at: https://amzn.to/42BFPN1