Fri
Jul 1 2016 3:00pm

Review: Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen

Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen is a debut novel and an outer space thriller (Available June 21, 2016).

Curtis C Chen’s Waypoint Kangaroo is a clever mix of space opera, superheroics, and spy thriller. Set in a future that sees Earth’s colony of Mars having fought a bloody war of independence from the mother planet, peace has been regained enough for interplanetary travel and commerce to settle into a routine that includes regular vacation cruises. 

Our hero, Kangaroo (and no, that’s not his real name), has been forced onto one of these cruises. He didn’t exactly botch his last mission, but he certainly could have been quieter about it—seeing as he’s supposed to be a secret agent. And, while he’s a decently competent spy, he knows full well that the main reason he’s allowed into the field at all is his unique ability to access a pocket universe that allows him to store items in an unknown area of outer space—hence the unusual codename.

When the very small government department that’s been built around him finds itself under audit, his boss, Paul, decides that Kangaroo is safer far, far out of the way. While most people would be thrilled at the opportunity to take an exotic, all-expenses-paid vacation, Kangaroo isn’t the kind of person who knows how to relax. It’s not that he’s Type A, exactly, it’s just that working is all he knows. It isn’t long before he starts looking around for a way to be “useful”:

I mean, it's not like I have anything to prove here. It’s not like I want to prove to Paul and [the psychiatrist] and the Secretary of State and anyone else who might be watching—now or later—that I can fly solo, that I can complete a mission without a babysitter. It’s not like I’m going out of my way to show off my operational skills so everyone can see that I am, in fact, not the weakest link in the chain.

And I’m certainly not doing this because it’s easier to think of “Kangaroo on vacation” as a cover identity than to figure out what I would actually enjoy doing as myself, without orders or instructions, without any kind of direction.

Before Kangaroo can get himself into any serious trouble though, the incinerated bodies of two passengers are discovered in a state room. He jumps at the chance to put his skills to work, but soon discovers that nothing is as it seems, as he uncovers a diabolical plot to ignite another war between the planets. And, it’s not just his spy skills, as average as those may be, that get put to the test; he also gets to let his superpower shine (under strictly classified circumstances, of course):

This part is going to be tricky. The largest I’ve ever been able to open the portal is fifteen meters in diameter. And I can’t open the pocket facing away from me. The portal also moves and tilts with my body—my head, specifically—so I can’t actually get out of the way. But I can position the portal off-center with respect to my body. I can move it out of the way.

When the [item] is centered, it’ll be just over one meter from my head. And that’s where it’ll come shooting out later, at several thousand meters per second. If I can’t open the pocket to the same size in a split second, the [item] will take off my head, and possibly part of my torso.

Did I say this was a bad idea? I was wrong. This is probably the worst idea ever.

On the bright side, I guess that makes it a new personal record.

Kangaroo’s self-deprecation and (often unappreciated by those around him) sense of humor add a welcome levity to a high-stakes game of murderous espionage. His insecurities and need to prove himself without, thankfully, needing to showboat at the expense of others, make him a sympathetic hero. Add to that a smart, suspenseful plot that uses its fantastical elements wisely, and you have an assured debut novel from Mr. Chen.

I was also impressed by the website set up to accompany the book. Waypointkangaroo.com is particularly fun for puzzlers like me. Those who successfully make it past the puzzles (and don’t worry if you’re not that good at them: there are plenty of hints available) are allowed access to a delightful extra chapter as to what really went down in Kazakhstan just before the start of the novel, making for an excellent integrated experience.

 

To learn more or order a copy, visit:

Buy at iTunes

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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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