Science Fiction Book Review

Their Majesties' Bucketeers

by L. Neil Smith
Reviewed date: 2023 Aug 11
Rating: 1
182 pages
cover art

The lamviin: all aliens, no humans
Their Majesties' Bucketeers is one of those rare science fiction books that contains no human characters. The story is set on the planet Sodde Lydfe, which is inhabited by a race called lamviin. Lamviin trilaterally symmetrical, with three sexes. They have hard carapaces, can regrow limbs and eyes, but perish quickly if the carapace is pierced or broken. Water makes their shells soft, and they avoid it; they live in the desert. When our story opens they've had an industrial revolution and the beginnings of electrification. They have telephones, electric lights, and steam engines, but beast-drawn carriages—the watu (plural watun) being analogous to our horse—are common.

Lamviin
Lamviin is the race or species name, analogous to the word mankind or humanity. A single individual is a lam, and plural is lamn. Lamviin have three sexes. Each individual has a three-part name, and based on the sex a different part of the name is emphasized. For example, Agot Edmoot Mav is male and is familiarly addressed as Mav, while Liimevi Myssmo Law is female and is familiar addressed as Myssmo.

  • Male
    Pronouns: he/him/his
    Formal address: Gentlelam/gentlelamn
    Example name: Agot Edmoot Mav
    The males are dominant. However, the world is changing and professions once exclusive to males are being opened up. Still, it's a patriarchy, and when a trine marries the others take the male's last name.
  • Female
    Pronouns: she/her/hers
    Formal address: Lady/ladies
    Example name: Liimevi Myssmo Law
    The book offers surprisingly few details about the female lamviin.
  • Surmale
    Pronouns: rhe/rher/rhers
    Formal address: Lurry/lurries
    Example name: Mymysiir Offe Woom
    The main viewpoint character is surmale, so we learn a fair bit. Surmales are subordinate in society to the males, although there are more professional opportunities opening up. Surmales tend to be smaller than other adults, and they lack the characteristics of adults; that is, they look like overgrown children.
  • Children
    Pronouns: rhe/rher/rhers
    Lamviin children are of indeterminate sex. They do not develop sex characteristics until they mature, at which point they either develop into males or females—or do not develop, and become adult surmales. It's not revealed whether the sex is actually determined at birth and merely becomes apparent in adulthood, or whether the sex is actually indefinite and a given individual could (depending on environmental factors, say) develop into any of the three sexes.

The planet, the people, and the politics
The planet, as mentioned, is Sodde Lydfe. The story takes place on the island of Foddu, which is ruled by the Empire of Great Foddu. (Over on the continent but barely figuring into the story is the Podfettian Hegemony.) Most Fodduans support the royal family, at least publically, but there are various flavors of Unarchists that cause trouble. It is not a strict monarchy though: there is a Parliament with three houses: the Lezynsiin (or Upper House), the Nazemynsiin (or Middle House), and the Mykodsedyetiin (or Lower House.) The state religion is the Church of the Martyred Trine, which most Fodduans nominally belong to, although there are breakaway sects.

Lamviin do not drink water, but they do eat food, sometimes including soup made with oil. They also have vices analogous to Earth vices: they take kood, which is served in a fancy kood service sort of like tea. Kood is (I think) vapors inhaled from a burning wick. Presumably very pleasant vapors. Lamviin also juice, which is imbibing of electricity; it is intoxicating and is analogous to alcohol.

Things to note, both annoying and fun
One irritating thing is all the familiar Earth things with new names. For example, ascension = evolution. unarchists = republicans. Nonades = decadates, octaries = centuries. (OK I guess that part is cool.) And I did like the off-hand way the author slipped in a reference to nine-day weeks. Cool. But one of the biggest problems was just trying to take in all the new vocabulary, while also deciphering a whole new alien culture, plus trying to map that all back onto stuff in Earth history—because it does really all map back to stuff in our history. And the alien names are all so unpronounceable. That never helps.

The plot
Anyway, on to the plot synopsis.

Mymy
Our narrator is Mymy, a surmale paracauterist employed by the Bucketeers. That is, rhe is neither male nor female, and rher job is analogous to a paramedic employed by the fire department—though in this case, the lamviin (the name for this species of alien) being averse to water, fires are put out with sand. Sand is carried in buckets (hence, Bucketeers) or pumped and sprayed through hoses (those must be some pumps.)

Mav
Mymy's friend is Mav, an Extraordinary Inquirer for the Bucketeers, which means he (for he is male) investigates crimes. So I guess the Bucketeers have grown to encompass police work as well as firefighting. Anyway, Mav is trying to introduce the idea of forensic evidence and deductive reasoning to his superiors, and it's not going well. So this will be a Sherlock Holmes pastiche.

Srafren Rotdu Rizmou, Prof.
The learned professor gives a public lecture on rher (for rhe is surmale) new theory of ascension, which is evolution by another name. During the lecture, which both Mav and Mymy attend, a bomb kills him. Now the game is afoot. Mav is Sherlock Holmes and Mymy is Watson.

An aside
I'm not impressed so far. The author has an interminably long debate between a fringe religious leader and the main character, which just so happens to parallel exactly the stereotype of an argument about evolution between a Creationist and an enlightened, rational scientist. It’s boring, it’s mean spirited, and I don’t read science fiction to be fed poor social propaganda. For that I read Facebook comments.

The end
It's a locked room murder mystery. After many boring and interminable pages, Inquirer Mav solves the case. I guess, technically, the clues were there. At least as to the location of the bomb. The answer for how it was detonated did not convince me. Nor did the identity of the perpetrator.

Sorry, this one is not for me. It was a chore to read from the first page to the last.


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