Bill Willingham. Fearless Space Pirates of the Outer Rings. (The New Space Opera 2.)

Willingham is evidently famous as a comic-book writer and illustrator, but this is the first time that he’s appeared on the Best SF radar. The story is an entertaining gonzo-ish yarn, with some clever touches for someone new to writing SF. A pirate ship lies in wait for a cargo vessel to pass by, and after a brief combat, the prize is there to be grabbed. The ship’s captain is a massive third-stage Plentiri male, showing his excitement at the chase with his brightly jewewled grappling hoons reflexively extruded and rectracted in a steady rhythm. The ship is crewed with a variety of aliens, and the sole human on board is First Mate Danny Wells.

Danny and the captain challenge each other to be first to board the captured vessel, and we follow Danny and his boarding crew as they make a risky entry into the vessel.

The variety of alien characters, and having a human as a rare and consequently intriguing crew member, works well. The only slight issue is the ending, in which, having assumed the mantle of ship’s captain following the demise of the Plentiri, Danny and his right-hand man (a 7foot golden-skinned amazonian sort of humanoid female) are victims of a mutiny and sent back to Earth, where, disappointed in humanity not having taken to the stars, they take on the role of comic book superheroes. It’s an ending slightly out of kilter with the rest of the story.

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