In this second installment of a series, a rakish adventurer must unravel the riddle of alien technology while aboard a spaceship on an Earth cultural mission.
First-person narrator Jack Jones Jr.—actually a clone—is a randy, sybaritic youth, ready for lovemaking with all genders and species on the starship Shakespeare. The crew members are supposed to be Earth cultural ambassadors to various alien races, performing the classics in the ship’s theaters, but they are in reality conducting espionage on humanity’s behalf. In Smith’s (A Jack by Any Other Name, 2017, etc.) earlier novel, the protagonist discovered that his superspy clone sire—the original, 50-ish Jack Jones, presumed dead—had actually gone rogue and perpetrated all sorts of perfidy. With that mystery supposedly solved and the villain incarcerated on Earth, young Jack (and the book, for a while) feels a bit aimless, with little to do but have free-wheeling sex with gym-toned Shakespeare crewmates. But intrigue arises anyway. Jack is briefly abducted by an unidentified antagonist, and there is much unknown about the mysterious faster-than-light drive spheres that power the Shakespeare and other interstellar crafts lucky to get them. The machines are the result of shadowy ET trading and dealing. Nobody seems to know exactly how the FTL tech originates or works—except maybe nefarious “Old-Jack.” Smith’s lighthearted sequel continues her sci-fi Space Operetta series. The author is generous with the Shakespeare quotes (and, in places, David Bowie lyrics). As the tale grows more convoluted, though, Smith has to fall back repeatedly on a silly deus ex machina involving Jack’s “special skills,” a sort of quantum link he has with certain FTL drives that allows the clever clone to think unlikely events (like narrow escapes) into existence as needed. Even with this resourceful superpower, the smug, self-satisfied hero is on the shallow side, his distinguishing features including that he’s ever keen for rolls in the hay (or whatever) and he sometimes shows up for business naked. An abrupt cliffhanger ending announces this installment as a midchapter of the saga. While that’s a bit of a letdown, there should be genre readers prepared to keep up with the Joneses, much as a previous generation followed Keith Laumer’s dashing galactic diplomat, Jame Retief.
A satisfactory sci-fi sequel that promises more cues to send in the clones.