Isobel Enid Schuster never planned to go into space. She almost wished there had been no Vatican III, and the clergy had not gone co-ed, or at least the Jesuits had not.
But all those things had happened. The Galactic Union Space-Troopers teamed up with the St. Bennedetta Jesuits to form the Space Academy Preparatory School, and now Bel is a Professor of Extra-Terrestrial Humanities and Value Systems on a starship.
Restricted shore leave on the planet Llannonn is better than staying on the ship, especially when Bel swaps clothes with a close-look-alike Llannonninn woman and slips out to see the sights. But the woman is the target of a criminal from another planet. The woman thinks Bel is a police agent, come to take her place. The criminal thinks Bel is his target. Yet another criminal thinks Bel is a VIP he can kidnap and hold for ransom.
The only thing between Bel and a life of slavery in the provinces is the tenuous friendship she’s formed with Tetra Petrie, a language professor from the planet Gilhoolie.
Gangsters aliens, local law enforcement and highly placed political operatives all get into the act, as a tangle of misunderstanding, miscommunication and mistaken identity land Bel in court, facing what passes for a legal system on Llannonn.
1. A comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations.
2. The genre of such works.
3. Force of Habit by Marian Allen.
Clocking in at a mere 220 pages, Marian Allen’s Force of Habit is a pure comical tour de farce! After finishing the book, I read an interview with Allen where she explained that it started as a Star Trek fan fiction but then grew into its own story as it became more and more comical. This struck me a particularly hilarious as my initial description of the book would be if the crew of Star Trek went on shore leave on Tatooine and had to deal with Jabba the Hut.
It would probably be the crew of Voyager because let’s face it, they weren’t too swift to begin with. And before anyone argues with me on that all the other incarnations of Star Trek would have successfully navigated the situation without much effort.
For TOS, Kirk would have slept with every available female, including the grumpy ambassador thus nullifying much of the tension. In TNG Riker would have slept with every available female, including the grumpy ambassador thus nullifying much of the tension. And if that didn’t work, Picard would have smooth talked his way out of it. DS9 wouldn’t have shoreleaved and Enterprise just doesn’t count.
That leaves Voyager. The crew of Voyager would totally have mucked this up. If you honestly think about it, Voyager was the most “soap opera” of all Star Trek incarnations (once again, Enterprise doesn’t count). I can just imagine Seven of Nine’s handling of the hostage situation ending in even more confusion than this one did.
Okay. Okay. Enough about Star Trek. Back to the review.
Great! Now I have Voltaire’s USS Make Some Shit Up stuck on repeat in my head.
One of the things that makes this story so great is the absolute absurdity of the whole mistaken identify bit. Each character jumps to what the reader will see as wildly illogical conclusions but those conclusions actually make sense from the character’s point of view. At various points in the book, Bel is mistaken for a bookkeeper, a high level ambassador/diplomat, a secret agent, and a galactic union police.
I find that many times with farces or comedies, the author inserts a character that has it all figured out and sees through all the misunderstandings. Allen resists this urge, which made me quite happy as I often find the author is going out of their way to make sure that the reader understands the absurdity of the situation. When a farce is well-written, this character is unnecessary at best or breaks the fourth-wall at worst. At one point or another, every character in the story mistakes someone else for someone else.
Wow! You think I could have said that last sentence better.
Another aspect of the story that lends itself well to the mistaken identity device is the strained/casual relationship of Bel and every other character. Bel is a woman who is struggling to breathe through the boredom and tedium of her post as a teacher on a starship. She often bucks against the system enough to satisfy her need for rebellion but not enough to bring sanctions against her. This causes understandable tension with her crewmates, who must then become her rescue crew.
The alien races are also a hoot. One of the main antagonist is Gord Pron, a Stokk mid-level mobster looking to move up the ladder. You could describe the Stokk as if Jabba the Hut was a lizard type creature with less intelligence and finesse, more aggression, but equal ambition. If they actually succeeded in capturing Han Solo in carbonite, they would have accidentally him during a fight. But in all likelihood, they would have skipped the carbonite and just cracked him on the head.
Force of Habit is fun ride that will have you occasionally face-palming yourself as the character stumble through one mishap after another.