L. S. King’s novel Deuces Wild: Beginners’ Luck began life as a serial somewhere out there in the Interwebs on a site called Ray Gun Revival. Ray Gun Revival is an online pulp, if you will, offering throw-back stories inspired by the Golden Age of science fiction, when heroes faced forbidding planets and space monsters armed not with phasers or blasters, but with good, old-fashioned ray guns. Not surprisingly, the stories there aren’t exactly cutting edge. What they are is fun. Refreshingly so.
In Deuces Wild: Beginners’ Luck, a cowboy and a space pirate team up when both are threatened by gangsters, shadowy government types, and an insane emperor. That’s right. This is a story about a cowboy and a space pirate. How cool is that? Happily, the book lives up to all the unabashedly cliff-hanging, popcorn-eating, silly-grin-inducing fun of the premise.
The science is plausible — something rare in Golden Age throw backs — and the world-building is closer to Star Wars and Firefly than to the art deco-inspired environs of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. No worries. The heart and feel is the same. The roots show a bit. Since Deuces Wild: Beginners’ Luck started out as a serialized collection of stories, the plot is not as tight as most of us have come to expect from modern science fiction. Characters that seem like the may become important don’t reappear, and heavies that seem destined to become major threats are dispatched much sooner than one might expect. In fact, my one complaint is the lack of a villain strong enough to be a match for our heroes. There’s no Darth Vader to tie the episodes together.
None of that matters. Like the movie serials of yesteryear, when narrators used words like, um, yesteryear, the emphasis is on moving the characters from one wild adventure to the next.
More, the arc that makes Deuces Wild: Beginners’ Luck work is the at first reluctant friendship that grows between the two leads. Imagine what might have happened in Star Wars had Luke met Han in that bar without Obi Wan and some urgent mission. Imagine them slowing coming to respect, and even like each other and they drift planet to planet, constantly finding new trouble to get themselves out of. The growth of that friendship is what keeps you smiling in spite of yourself and turning the pages.
A few story threads are hinted at but not explored—they are, in fact, left tantalizingly open for a sequel. And that’s just fine, because something this much fun deserves to be continued.