I had a blast listening to Kangazang! While I knew from the start that my mind would make comparisons between Cooper’s tale and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I intentionally set out to let myself have fun with it. And I wasn’t disappointed. Cooper’s humor is unmistakably British and, quite frankly, hilarious. I found myself chuckling out loud a number of times, an act that does not come to me easily when I am alone.* The situations and the jokes are sometimes too ridiculous to avoid laughing at. What’s not to love about the wimpy child of a deceased evil warlord being forced to take over and run a galactic empire, despite knowing nothing about running empires? The fact that he turns out to be too good at it makes for an amusing story.
The characters, if the above is any indication, are perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the novel. Each of them is distinct, not simply because they have a different voice, but more accurately because they have distinct personalities, quirks and all. Jeff and Ray are as different from one another as any other two characters. This makes for a cast of characters who are as compelling as they are amusing. Even the villain of the story is given plenty of “air time,” the result of which, as mentioned, is a hilarious play on evil galactic warlords and their less-than-evil kin (there are, of course, many villains, some of whom drag up Ray’s less-than-reputable family history). The mishmash of characters are really what makes Kangazang! work, because the situational comedy that arises from their interactions is precisely what makes this book so amusing.
If I have to criticize Kangazang! for anything, it is that certain parts of the novel are predictable or move too swiftly. One of the romantic plotlines, for example, develops too fast, in part because Cooper has a character “grow” suddenly in order to facilitate the romance. While that plotline turns out to be quite cute — in a mushy way — I do think more attention could have been paid to the development of the characters as they embarked on a romantic journey (or as they came close to embarking on that journey). The same is true of other aspects of the story. But it could be that Cooper has left a lot of things out in order to leave plenty to discover in future volumes. If so, I will certainly follow along.
The last thing worth mentioning is Colin Baker and the production quality. Cooper’s tale is narrated using multiple voices, voice effects, sound effects, and more. It’s like listening to one of those old radio dramas with all the actors reading out their lines and banging things to make sounds. And it really works. The way Baker reads (the inflections, etc.) and the voices he creates improve the overall product ten fold. I can’t imagine reading Kangazang! It seems right to have Baker read it for me. It seems natural. That’s not to say that reading the book the old-fashioned way would make for a less enjoyable experience. Rather, I think the fact that I was first exposed to the book as an audiobook of such quality gave me an experience that a traditional book cannot reproduce.
Despite the minor flaws, Kangazang! is a wonderful listening experience and well worth buying. If you’re a fan of British comedies — Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, Spaced, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, etc. — then this is a book for you. Cooper has a knack for humor and I hope there will be more books in the future.
If you’ve never heard of Kangazang!, then you need to check out the website and get a copy right away. For 7.99 (in British pounds), the audiobook is really a steal (or 5.99 for the paperback, which is also a steal). You can’t get them that cheap in the U.S. unless they’re on sale or old! All I’m hoping for right now is that Cooper and Baker team up again for some more scifi comedy gold.
*(Liar Liar holds the record for hardest lonely laugh for me)