A few years ago, humanity gained access to a few hundred different planets that anyone interested could travel to, but only for a short time, before the access vanished again. Of course, a writer visited these exotic places and wrote a guide book, which is really all that has remained of the small worlds of which each one corresponds to a subgenre of fantasy or science fiction, whether its concerned with pirates, superheroes, and space adventurers, or wizards and barbarians. Not all subgenres, however, have found their way into this book, notably absent are for instance cyberpunk and dark fantasy.
The book pokes fun at all the clichés, stereotypes, and adherence to a certain formula going on in these types of stories, but the criticism is mostly in good fun rather than any kind of scathing. Also, the social commentary and serious background of some of these creations are certainly acknowledged which keeps the book from becoming too superficial. The underlying plot of the self-absorbed and insensitive travel writer and his exasperated editor also adds a layer because it contains some astute observations on consumerism and its connection with the concept of traveling and visiting places that highlight the arrogance and self-centeredness of many a tourist.
Overall, this book is pretty funny, although I think that the humour could have been even sharper in some places, and the style does remind me of Terry Pratchett which is always welcome. There were, however, some chapters that were noticeably weaker than others, for instance, I didn’t care much for the planet Mittelvelde which was basically a mash-up of Middle Earth and Westeros, and it’s the first chapter to boot which made for a rough start. This part was just too long and dry for my tastes, although one could say that this is obviously inherent to high fantasy. Also, I did not need the chapter on Grondorra, a place full of barbarians and dinosaurs, at all, as I basically know nothing about this subgenre and thus could not quite appreciate this part as much as others.
On the other hand, I really enjoyed the chapter on superheroes which was funny in unexpected ways, because it shines a light on the economic repercussions of having a world full of people with superpowers. Also a favourite was the chapter on space, maybe because this is a subgenre that I know a lot about and generally enjoy, and this is something that can be applied to the book overall: This is a book for fans of fantasy and science fiction who know about the weaknesses and problems of the genre and its many incarnations, and who can appreciate someone mocking it. It definitely becomes more enjoyable the more you know about the subject, and the more you recognize the referenced material and get all the small allusions.