Must-read of the week: Toxic Beer by Simon Bullock

Toxic Beer by Simon Bullock is an out-of-this-world sci-fi comedy classic-in-the-making that doffs a cap to Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series while having the confidence to be its own thing.

By Timothy Arden

When author Douglas Adams died at the start of the millennium the world undoubtedly lost a comedy genius, as well as visionary who paved the way for the sci-fi comedy genre as we know it today.

Hot on the back of his work as a script editor for Doctor Who, Adams first unleashed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2) on an unsuspecting public at the tail end of the seventies, and proved definitively that aliens couldn’t only be terrifying foes but hilarious foils.

His writing has inspired subsequent generations of authors but, arguably, none have been able to match his cosmic wit and whimsy. Even Eoin Colfer’s brave continuation of the H2G2 series, with 2009’s And Another Thing... was, at best, a passible but pale imitation.

Enter rising British sci-fi comedy novelist Simon Bullock, a lifelong devotee of Adams and, as his hero would have put it, a frood who really knows where his towel is.

With his literary debut, Toxic Beer, Bullock has pulled off the seemingly impossible: a laugh-out-loud space opera that captures the same zany, eccentric sense of humour as Adams while still firmly being its own (scourge cat bladder) beast, to namecheck one of the colourful menagerie of alien beings to be found among its 186 pages.

The novel’s whacky premise is that Earth is being invaded by a group of alcoholic aliens who, for the past 100 years, have been on the mother of all booze-ups while on the run from the intergalactic police in a stolen spaceship.

They’d still be merrily chugging their way among the stars if it wasn’t for two things. One, the ships’ engines have sprung a leak that will kill them if they don’t dispose of the toxic waste they produce, sharpish.

Two, the ship has run dry - a worrying situation that could also result in death thanks to the crew’s homicidal, bleary-eyed captain. He’s mad and angry enough when he’s tanked up but the agonies of sustained sobriety are taking their toll. Indeed, he’s already shot one of them out of the airlock, without a space suit,  for daring to tell him the booze had run out.

The task, or should that be ‘cask’, falls to Harry, the ship’s affable and prodigious engineer, to solve.

Simon Bullock spent the better part of a decade crafting his debut book, sci-fi comedy novel Toxic Beer, having been inspired to write by his sci-fi comedy hero, Douglas Adams.

Newly promoted after the trigger-happy captain blasted his boss into a “sticky black pile of soot”, Harry hatches a cunning plan: hide out on the Moon and, from their lunar location, discretely shuttle the toxic waste down to Britain while stocking up on terrestrial tipples.

It won’t come a moment too soon, especially as a few of his colleagues have already resorted to necking down some barrels of the aforementioned waste, which apparently tastes like “Meloovian Pale Ale”, and dying as a consequence.

So Harry, along with two engineering assistants, Chas and Dave—comically-inept stooges whose one saving grace is that they “could track down an alcoholic beverage to within an inch of its life”—arrive on Earth, intent on buying a brewery.

However, they not only plan to store the toxic ooze their ship produces but also sell it for a pretty penny to Earthlings, potentially setting themselves up to make a killing in both senses of the word.

It is up to three humans to stop their nefarious plans before it’s too late. The first is unemployed computer engineer Sidney Ramsbottom, who has inherited the brewery in question after his father is found dead in surreal circumstances: floating face down in a vat of beer accompanied by two scantily-dressed pole dancers and their three performing sheep Brittany, Lulu, and, Michaela.

The second is retired policeman, DS John Smith, still as inquisitive as ever, and the third is his best friend, Vangelis Papadopoulos, landlord of the Souvlaki Duck, who has been approached by the aliens to sell them his family ale recipe.

Will they succeed, or will the aliens score a decisive slam drunk? I’m not telling, but you’ll have a fantastic time finding out.

Inspired by the infamous 1980s’ British booze-cruises to France, Toxic Beer is potent stuff, guaranteed to refresh the parts that other sci-fi comedy novels cannot reach.

Simon Bullock literary debut, Toxic Beer, is a whacky, laugh-out-loud space opera.

The first in a planned trilogy and a decade in the making, the novel never flags in the humour department, with many inspirationally silly scenarios and set pieces. Case in point, the shuttle the aliens land on Earth disguises itself … as a Chinese restaurant, complete with customers and cooks.

I also loved the larger-than-life characters, especially Chas and Dave, who bumble their way around on our planet, fouling up plans left, right, and centre with a somewhat unpredictable android sidekick.

While there is undeniably a Hitchhiker’s vibe to proceedings, the comedy is more earthy (no pun intended) than Adams’ cerebral, donnish approach and, perhaps, more akin in this respect to Red Dwarf.

As such, while it will definitely appeal to H2G2 aficionados in the absurdity stakes it will have a wider appeal as the jokes never rely on a technical familiarity with advanced astrophysics or temporal mechanics, instead reflecting a broad sense of humour.

There are, though, some nice Hitchhiker’s Easter eggs for eagle-eyed readers to spot, such as DS John Smith’s old boss, DCI Dent (a reference to H2G2’s tea-obsessed protagonist, Arthur Dent), and a cameo for a Ford Prefect car (a nod to Arthur Dent’s companion, Ford Prefect).

Author Simon Bullock, who is based in Holland and is also in a successful blues band, BluesShack, is currently hard at work on a prequel to Toxic Beer, The Last Intergalactic Booze Cruise, and, frankly, I can’t wait for a refill.

With tongue firmly in cheek, he’s conjured up a vivid, wildly original, and side-splitting universe that provides a close encounter of the absurd kind, and one that you’ll want to revisit time and again.

Toxic Beer by Simon Bullock is out now on Amazon in paperback and eBook formats, priced £9.07 and £3.02 respectively. For more information, visit www.simonbullockauthor.com

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