Review by Frank Plowright
A great British pub game that’s surely transferred online somewhere is to reimagine films and TV series with Ray Winstone playing the lead instead of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, or David Niven. Winstone is a truly terrifying actor with a very limited range, an undercurrent of simmering menace and a broad Cockney accent characterising every part he’s ever played. For the full effect it’s not enough just to consider Ray cast against type as Hamlet, Mary Poppins or David the Prime Minister from Love Actually, the joke has to be extrapolated. Throw in the alcohol and it’s a fine half hour’s entertainment until the next round. According to his introduction, Warren Ellis came to the idea independently, watching Star Trek, and suddenly imagining the urbane Captain Picard replaced by Ray.
Brandon McKinney draws a wiry Captain John Ryder, but after the introduction we know it’s Ray, and it’s not long before he’s freed from jail, and swearing away, his starship experience necessary for a desperate situation where humanity has misjudged and is paying the price. He may be vulgar, but his ethical sense is just what’s needed for guerilla action against a force humanity can’t defeat by conventional means. McKinney enjoys drawing the space scenes, presents a digital precision to spacecraft, and supplies the right kind of gritty, lumpy people, selling their unconventional characters and the idea they’ve been round the block a few times.
This isn’t the thoughtful Ellis who delivers deep science fiction, but the drunk with a suppressed man love for Ray and whole host of problems with the positive, sanitised nature of TV science fiction series. Keep in mind this was published in 2003. He’s a clever writer, so Switchblade Honey, which is the name of Ryder’s ship, is at times a funny pastiche, recreating the Dirty Dozen with ethics, but as Ellis is aware, it’s an itch that needed scratched rather than his literary legacy. Attempting to stick to TV pacing leads to awkward long scenes, and even if he can’t resist throwing in some hard science the character beats seem artificial, as if Ellis couldn’t figure where to go beyond the original joke of Ray as a starship captain. He’s having some fun, but this isn’t the place to start investigating why Ellis has such a solid reputation. Instead check some of the recommendations.