I've met Curtis Chen, in a casual, convention-y sitting at the same table way. He seemed quiet, reserved, unassuming. I'd never ready any of his work. But apparently, under that calm demeanour is a trenchant wit and a great sense of storytelling.
Waypoint Kangaroo is the epitome of formula - from the moment the goofy but talented hero goes on vacation, you know exactly how this is going to go; we've seen it many times before. Chen touches all the required ... waypoints (sorry) - the surprising danger, the beautiful woman, the life and death stakes. In concept, there's not a lot that's new here.
What Chen brings is exactly the right balance of humor, technology, romance, and adventure. Yes, it's a familiar plot, in the same way that all Bond films are familiar. That doesn't mean some of them can't be good, and Chen's take on an oldy-but-goody is very good. I went into this book thinking "this won't work". I came out of it thinking "Hey! I want to read the next one."
Chen relies on one simple, unexplained gimmick - the pocket universe in which our hero can stash anything he likes, and get it out in clever ways. Beyond that, though is a well-thought out world and backstory of inter-planetary war, carefully and smoothly introduced at just the right moments, in just the right amounts to complement the main story and not overwhelm it. The hero is roughly the right amount of brave, modest, and foolish. Maybe a bit on the callow side, but he's meant to be young and sheltered. Ditto the anachronistic and slightly chauvinist attitude.
All in all, a surprisingly fun book. There aren't many moments where you'll say "I never thought of that," but innovation aside, Waypoint Kangaroo is well worth a read, and I recommend it.