This is a funny, funny book. It is loveably absurd and ridiculously extravagant. I had this book sitting in my TBR pile for years, but it was just the thing when I finally picked it up. Starship Grifters is a Mad Magazine style parody wrapped around a nugget of another story that works best if you are pretty familiar with the things it is making fun of, in this case mostly OG Star Wars, although there are lots of other pop culture references in here too.
If you want to get a flavor of what this is all about, you can read the Chicolini Incident on the Starship Grifters website, a teaser for the book. If you like that, go buy it, because you'll get more of the same. If you don't like it, then no harm done.
This kind of book is best when you are in a receptive mood, as it is intentionally dialed up to eleven all the time, and that can fall flat if you are expecting something more serious, or even if you just don't catch it at the right time in your life. I've never been able to stand reading Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, although I did really enjoy the 2005 movie adaption starring Martin Freeman and Zooey Deschanel, which hews pretty close to Adams' books in tone.
It is also worth revisiting the difference between parody and satire I've stolen from Jon Weichsel:
Perhaps here I should define satire, as I have learned, through the course of promoting myself as a satirist, that a lot of people don’t know what satire is, and confuse it with parody. The primary difference between the two is that parody makes fun of fiction, while satire makes fun of reality.
But beneath the surface-level definition of the two words, each carries with it its own connotation. Parody is usually in good fun. It’s often considered homage. You parody things you love, not things you hate. Classic Simpsons episodes reference Citizen Kane so often because the creators loved the movie, not because they hated it.
Satire, on the other hand, can be mean-spirited and even misanthropic. You don’t make fun of real-life things you love. You make fun of the things you hate. Satire employs ridicule, mockery, and derision to attack human stupidity, weakness, and vice, as well as social convention and the hypocrisy at the root of propriety and decorum.
-J. Manfred Weichsel
Starship Grifters is definitely in good fun, and it is mostly making fun of fiction, so I would class it as a parody, although no really good parody can avoid making fun of a few real-life things that get in the blast radius.
Author Rob Kroese dedicated the book to Harry Harrison, and has also said that The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat was one of his inspirations for Rex Nihilo. The Stainless Steel Rat books are awesome, if somewhat uneven in quality. I find the joke density of Starship Grifters higher than the Stainless Steel Rat books I've read. It probably also helps to be several decades closer in pop culture to the reference works used, although Harrison kept writing Stainless Steel Rat books for a very long time indeed, with several coming out after Star Wars was in theatres.
Side note: I find it really funny to call The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat "classic pulp". If anything, Harrison is New Wave, which was reacting against Golden Age Campbelline scifi. But then, Harrison described the period of the 1950s thus: "The old barriers were coming down, pulp taboos were being forgotten, new themes and new manners of writing were being explored." The Campbelline writers thought they were breaking down old barriers and casting aside pulp taboos, and then Harrison comes along and says the same thing about them. Only for people seventy years later to call Harrison's work "pulp". That is a confusion worthy of Rex Nihilo.
Kroese recently did an AI art cover update for all the published Rex Nihilo books that he explained in depth on Twitter. Book cover art is in a dark place right now. Professional novels all look the same. Independent authors find good covers cost too much for their budget, except for Cole and Anspach. Artists find that they can't make a living doing it. So people have started experimenting with various AI art tools to make covers. I love the look of the new covers, which somehow capture the blissfully overconfident tone of Rex Nihilo perfectly.
Kroese already has four books in the Rex Nihilo series, and is planning on Kickstarting another three. I'm not sure I would binge all these books in a row, in my opinion they should be savored like an espresso or an aperitif, but hoo boy is Rex Nihilo funny. I sure will read the rest whenever I need a laugh.