Expert Assistance is announced as retro science fiction. This is a category that can be viewed a number of ways. It can be nostalgic, evoking an era when pulp Sci-Fi authors who knew very little actual science pumped out volume after volume of ray-guns and faster-than-light drives; it can be a sort of theoretical spacepunk, based on technology that was once thought possible but we now know is not; it can even be a cheap excuse for the author to know perhaps a little less about the science than he ought. Either way, it is genre fiction, and if your preferred genre of SF is the one that comes to an end in 1969, that prefers to ignore the physically impossibly and concentrate on the space cowboys and bridge-bunnies – in short, if you are an avid Stainless Steel Rat fan, Expert Assistance is for you.
This is a story that flaunts its Harrison heritage with affection and pride. It is written with the same flair and confidence that you find in Harrison when he lays his ethical and political principals aside in order to have a bit of a romp on the spaceways.
Given when this book was written, I would have appreciated the occasional nod to contemporary SF – indeed there are a number of occasions where the author could have (but perhaps forbore to) had a dig at the worthy pseudo-accurate science of so-called "hard SF". Blindness to anything beyond a genre that is as self-consciously ringfenced as this could so easily lead to a kind of sulky neo-luddism. Not so here; the pace of the narrative and the agreeably pulpy lightness of the characters carried me along.
If I really scrape around for criticisms, they would be about pacing and padding. There are a number of fairly lengthy segments which while well written could be completely removed with no loss whatsoever. However even these are delivered with relish that may take you beyond mere forgiveness into appreciation.
Suffice to say that if you are annoyed by bad science, hate descriptions of imaginary (and impossible) spacecraft, discussions of the layout of habitation domes, arsenal manifests and discusions of strategy with sentient computers, this certainly isn't for you. If, however, you long for the innocence of Doc Smith, have affection for the cheap thrills of pulp Sci-Fi, and have read any of the Deathworld books more than once, you will enjoy reading Expert Assistance.
Review by Harry DeWulf