Curtis C. Chen’s first novel, “Waypoint Kangaroo,” has a solid premise, a zippy plot, and some intriguing world-building. This is a promising debut. Chen writes with a breezy, cheeky style that reminds me of John Scalzi. Fans of Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” Universe novels should seek this one out.
Kangaroo is a James Bond-like spy trapped in a state of arrested development. He flaunts authority, makes bad decisions, and finds himself in a perpetual state of trouble. He covers up his internal dialogue of insecurities with a brash, smart-alecky persona. Fortunately for him, he is also irreplaceable due to his unique talent to open and close a portal to a hard-vacuum pocket dimension. It’s a superpower, and a handy way to smuggle items in and out of precarious situations.
Sent on vacation during an audit, Kangaroo boards the Princess of Mars Cruise Lines “Dejah Thoris,” an interstellar cruise ship - and a nod to author Edgar Rice Burroughs - headed for Mars. There’s some nice character work as Kangaroo wrestles with his identity and realizes he isn’t the vacationing type. His work defines him. Fortunately, he is saved from a long voyage into existential despair when two passengers are murdered.
The bored Kangaroo can’t resist helping the investigation. He discovers there’s a lot more going on than a simple double-murder and it quickly becomes apparent that everyone on board the ship are in danger. Meanwhile, the “Dejah Thoris’” crew has decidedly mixed feelings about accepting Kangaroo’s help.
Chen’s Universe is interesting and has room to grow. There’s a history of war and hard feelings between Mars and the Earth. Chen plays with future technology and how it would relate to spy work. Kangaroo and other people have various technological enhancements that make spy work both easier and more challenging.
Kangaroo is a smart-aleck, but never quite witty enough to make me laugh. This is a novel I wanted to love and ended up liking as a pleasant entertainment. Nevertheless, it feels like Chen is just scratching the surface of his writing talent, the Kangaroo, and the Universe he has created. There’s lots of room in his Universe for more stories starring the Kangaroo.