Having heard a lot about SKY PIRATES! over the years, but never having previously read the book myself, I admit to having had certain expectations going into it. This one certainly seems to be a love-it or hate-it novel; at least, that was the impression that I got from various on-line discussions. So, it was a bit of a surprise when I actually got around to reading it and found myself being quite bored with long stretches of it. Of all the things I was expecting, boredom wasn't one of them.
Yes, "boredom" adequately describes my reaction to the first hundred or so pages of SKY PIRATES!. Now, I have to keep in mind that while reading those opening sections, I was far too busy with a number of unavoidable activities, and the time I had during the day for reading was drastically reduced. But with this as my current book, I never felt that I was missing anything. I never felt the overriding need to sneak more time from some other activity in order to get through a few more pages. I only had time to read one short chapter an evening, and I really never felt the need to read any more than that.
For a book that is based upon a treasure hunt of sorts, it takes a considerable amount of time for the characters to actually get around to it. Until the voyage actually begins, the book consists of a whole lot of throat clearing. There are a lot of pointless interludes, random observations, and passages that aren't nearly as funny as they're supposed to be. Some of the jokes are indeed hilarious. Some of them are just tiresome. Despite the deliberate wackiness, the plot points are built up in a relatively logical manner (once one works through all of the distractions); the only problem is it just takes too long to get to each one.
Fortunately, my interest gradually increased as the book moved further along. Once Stone gets around to actually telling the story, he puts a lot of fun things into it. Of particular note are the alien Sloathes, a species who talk like how one would expect Yoda to sound if that little, green, Grover-voiced guy had been born with a touch of Tourette's syndrome. They're utterly hilarious, and it's no wonder that I heard much about these creatures years before I actually read the book.
But, in addition to the comedy, there's quite a dark story being told in here. It almost feels like a Jim Mortimore novel at times; it includes an all-powerful alien menace (putting millions upon millions of people in danger), a manipulative, amoral Doctor, and an ethical decision affecting the lives of every population within a certain astronomical region. Not exactly the sort of thing I was expecting given the goofy illustration of Sylvester McCoy on the cover.
I'm not quite sure how to sum up SKY PIRATES!. "Uneven" would probably be the word I'd attempt using to describe my overall reaction. Despite the tiresome beginning, I did end up enjoying the book. But there are too many little awkward pieces (including "funny" pieces that aren't, well, funny) for me to truly say that I thought it was a very good novel. Looking around at other reviews, it seems to be held as common wisdom that this book could have done with some serious editing, taking it down from its larger-than-average 337 pages to a more reasonable 250-275. I can't say that I'd disagree with that view. While fifty pages may not seem like a lot, if the story hadn't taken so long to get to where it was going, I probably would have felt more of a desire to pay attention during the middle and end.