Roots: Much to his annoyance, Stone's writing style inevitably brings comparisons to Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. The Sloathes bring to mind the Red Dwarf episode 'Polymorph'. There are quotations from Shakespeare's As You Like It, St Clement of Alexandria's Works, "As I was going up the stair", Dr. Johnson's Dictionary, John Rushkin's Stones of Venice, and Porky Pig. There are references to Greek mythology, Ouroboros, Hinduism (Siva), the Bible (Sodom and Gomorrah), the King James' Bible, Güttenberg, Martin Luther King, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Droopy, "Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill", box Brownie cameras, St. Vitus, Jung, Samuel Beckett, James Last, the cannibalism of the Donner party, Martin Luther and the Diet of Worms, and the Looney Toons characters: Sheep Dog Sam and Ralph Wolf. The Doctor quotes from Macbeth. Someone quotes Captain Oates' famous last words "I'm just going out. I may be some time". The Snata is, of course, based on Santa Claus. The "rodents of remarkable size and ferocity" on page 186 is probably a play on the "rodents of unusual size" from the Princess Bride.
Goofs: Aneas is occasionally spelt Anea both on the back cover and in the text. Icaron is spelt Iracon.
If "charon" isn't the real name of the species, but one given to it by the Time Lords, then how can "schirron" have become a devolved form of it in the Charon's pocket universe? [Maybe one of the races taken into the pocket universe was familiar with the Time Lord legends?]
Dialogue Disasters: "Blast ye for the scurvy knave ye are, mister bosun! 'Twill be a three turn around the scuppers should I hear the dread word o'mootney again!"
"Oh bloody-humpbacked Cruag, hairy-nostrilled Seth and the inordinately fecund Bel Shebedebededeth!"
Dialogue Triumphs: Depending on one's personal taste, everything uttered by the Sloathes is either a Disaster or a Triumph, but choice examples include "Bugger-me-bosun. Avast behind", "Excrescent hominids will now cower before by Most Supreme ejaculations", and "Is lower the lofty tone no enormously end, monkey-hominids going shit sod bugger all the sodding time."
"My name is Mr Pelt. Have you ever felt the urge to breed?"
"You're on what might be called a privateer vessel. Though we tend to think of ourselves more as freelance entrepreneurs filling an unofficial niche in the commodities market."
When the Doctor condemns the unseen force influencing the System, she caustically tells him, "Can't have someone mucking around behind the scenes like that. Manipulating people and manoeuvering them into the right place at the right time. Next thing we know, we'll have a pyrotic in a big skin balloon full of methane, just when it needs to be exploded or something." (a reference to [NA]Love and War[/NA}
"Sometimes everybody needs a little bit of pointless and inexplicable magic in their lives."
"Those who think in terms "us" and "them" would be better off killed by "them" in the first place!"
Continuity: During the early days of the Time Lord civilization, they wiped out or erased from history any emergent race that might one day develop a mastery of space-time similar to their own, in order to maintain their own supremacy. They perceived that any such species was inimical to life as they knew it; they were wrong, since humanoid minds exposed to the works of the Charon cope with it automatically by turning them into jokes. Most of these species are thus utterly forgotten, with even their names lost, but scattered artefacts of these species remain, including building materials and fossils. One such race devised reality bombs in a last-ditch attempt to fight the Gallifreyans, which largely reside in physical reality, but sink tendrils into the Vortex and corrupt the control systems of any constructs they find there, causing them to generate a hypnogenic signal that the construct's operators will interpret as a distress signal, causing them to materialize in the middle of the bomb, where they would find themselves surrounded by matter-disruptors. The bombs would detonate in the crucial nano-second before materialization is complete, destroying the construct. The Time Lords have excised most of these bombs from space and time, but odd examples remain.
The Charon is the last surviving member of its race, which was erased from space-time by the Time Lords. Charon is the name given to the species by the Time Lords; nobody knows what they called themselves. It survived because it was hidden in a freak space-time anomaly. It is self-referring, self-regenerating, and effectively immortal. Before they never existed, the Charon had the power to warp suns and built worlds that nothing humanoid could possibly live on. Their bodies are metadimensional and warp space-time. The Charon here created the System inside its prison, and has made and remade it numerous times before in a repeating cycle; the arrival of Planet X has disrupted the current cycle, bringing about the System's slow and final collapse. The Charon lives in the orrery-room at the heart of the System's sun. It used to create sub-beings, inseminated with its essence, to manage the System and periodically eradicate its inhabitants; all of these sub-beings have recently been destroyed, malfunctioned, or unexpectedly died. It also used to be able to reach into the Vortex, from where it drew the energy it needed to create the System. The Eyes of the Schirron are four semi-mythical jewels referred to as the souls of the Wanderers in the various religions of the System, several of which foretell that they will be brought together in the Last Days of the System in a place with No Shadows, where they shall either destroy the System or save it. They are actually analogues of the Wanderers, containing wormholes that link the System to the rest of the Universe, and act as power sources for the System. The Charon's technology is so utterly alien that humanoid eyes perceive it as odd and demented machinery, in this case massive, weird clockwork. After confronting the Doctor, it finally asks him to kill it.
The System has a circumference of fifty thousand leagues and comprises a perfect gaseous globe surrounded by an electrostatic Möbeus bubble-shell. It contains four planetary bodies known as Wanderers. There is thin air in the space between the Wanderers. The arrival of Planet X in the System threw it out of balance, creating waterspouts on Elysium, showers of frogs and meteors on Aneas, strange lights under the soil of Prometheus, and a fissure to open up in an ice-desert on Elysium. It also caused the Great Outer Slipstream, a debris-strewn elliptical maelstrom that intersects the orbits of the Wanderers and extends to the System Edge and back again. Between the orbits of Elysium and Aneas is the Ring, which consists of rock fragments varying from grains of sand to bodies larger than moons; ships travelling through the Ring must remain airtight due to the large number of lethal suspended particles and massive quantities of LSD found within its atmosphere. Various criminals and pirates live in the Ring, safe from prying eyes and pursuit. Most of the inhabitants of the System are hybrids of humans, Draconians (Frontier in Space), Silurians (The Silurians, Warriors of the Deep), Sasquatches, Solarians (Decalog: Prisoners of the Sun) and various other species. After the Charon's death, the remains of the System, including the Wanderers, coalesce to form a single planet in the real Universe, orbited by Planet X, and inhabited by various survivors from the System plus several Sloathes, thanks to the desires of Leetha and Li Shao, who subconsciously use the Eyes to achieve this.
One of the Wanderers is the jungle Wanderer of Aneas, which has the Anacon River. The inhabitants, including the indigenous Saurian humanoid population, used to live in floating Dirigible Cities, until Sloathe bombardment destroyed all of them except for Rakath, home of the Sun Samurai cult. The cult consists largely of Saurians and a handful of humans. The Sun Samurai cult believe in the Book of the Chosen, which foretells of the coming of a female warrior known as, of course, the Chosen, who will lead the cult to victory. A Flageolet is an Anean instrument. Marshwort is found on Aneas. Razor-toads are found on Aneas; the Sloathes transport one in the same cell as a lost tribe of Anean pygmies, which it promptly eats. Swamp bloaters are also found on Aneas. Anean gleki larvas are microscopic parasites that burrow into the body of a host and promptly expand to fifteen thousand times their original size. Kimu is an Anean dish. The Rootlands of Aneas are home to hamadryads, blindy-eyed kobolds, and Morlocks with moleskin trousers. Anean crocogators are an all-but sub aquatic species that have evolved the ability to breathe through hollow reeds and only rise to the surface to kill. Exploding puff-marsupials are native to Aneas and secrete venom that makes people explode on contact. Other fauna on Aneas includes blooki-beetles and tummy-button-burrowing jungle leeches. The Anean Eye was to be hidden in the Temple of Ankara-Ha-Ha in the jungle, but is actually located in the near-by wreckage of a ship similar to the Schirron Dream.
The water Wanderer of Elysium is another of the four. It consists entirely of water, with no bedrock or solid core. It is home to squid, nautili, and shoals of fish. Prior to the Sloathe invasion of the System pirates inhabited it. The Elysian Eye was located in the pontoon citadel of Marloon, but has been in Solan's vaults on Sere since the planet was evacuated eight years previously.
The desiccated world of Prometheus is covered in deserts and has burning hot days and freezing cold nights. The Prometheans have evolved a metabolism of extremes to cope with this, suppressing higher bodily functions and effectively becoming dormant when necessary. They are nomadic and dwell in groups called K'ans. Prometheus has no government save for the despotic Califs of its cities. Horses and ponies, or similar animals, are found on Prometheus as are jackrabbits, coyotes, jackals, badgers, bullsnakes, kangaroos, packrats, gilas, bobcats, vultures, thrashers, and rubber-shrikes. Raintime occurs on Prometheus once very eighteen solar months, when the water contained in the aquifers of the planet are pumped into the atmosphere through osmotic valves. The Valley of the Scorpions of Glass on Prometheus is home to vampire chickens. Reklonian hunter-gatherers have red eyes and albino fur. The Promethean Eye is hidden in the Valley of the Scorpions of Glass.
Reklonian ice-worms are a species of heat-seeking hot-blooded snake with thick directionally aligned white fur and rows of vestigial limbs adapted in the form of little ice-cutters and shovels vibrating at fifteen hundred cycles per second. Tiger-prawns are a Reklonian delicacy; they are actually the testicles of Reklonian polar tigers. The Reklonian Eye is buried beneath the ice in the bedrock of the planet.
Degenomancers live in the methane boglands on the Elysian satellite Rubri; they are humanoid and kill themselves whilst keeping their brains alive, deriving various powers as a result, including telepathy. They use mechanics to keep their slowly decomposing bodies operative. The polymorphs also live on Rubri and are opposite to the degenomancers in that they consider all life to be sacred; the Sloathes exterminated them all. Mice in the System are two-foot long feral predators with razor sharp teeth and claws, whereas cats are docile and timid.
Sere is an asteroid in the Ring that was once a major trading centre for the System but is now largely home to pirates and mercenaries.
Planet X is ball of basalt, ash and slag that entered the System several years earlier after being thrown out of its original orbit. The Sloathes are native to Planet X; they live underground in tunnels and rabidly acquisitive, which prompts them to loot any planets they come across, including the Wanderers. They collect anything and everything. Sloathes constantly exude ichor, which coats everything on Planet X. They are metamorphic, with telescopic skeletons surrounded by flesh the consistency of boiling mud and skinned by muscle and chitinous plates. At rest, they resemble soft and scaly obloids, but carry within them a wide assortment of limbs, sensory organs and manipulatory appendages and can assume virtually any form at will. They grow from spores and grow continuously, larger Sloathes feeding on smaller Sloathes, which in turn feed on the slime produced by larger Sloathes. The supreme ruler of the Sloathes is The Most Elevated and Puissant Kraator Xem; "Grand Vizier" Sekor Dom Sloathe and chief of staff and commander of the Sloathe fleets Lokar Pan assist it. Sloathes do not consider anything else in the universe apart from them to be truly alive and thus consider anything else that walks and talks presumptuous. Sloathe freighters are made out of the bodies of mentally deformed Sloathes that never become self-aware; they are fed until they grow to massive proportions and then killed and gutted to make the ships. Their behaviour is affected by other beings around them. The Doctor hypothesizes that they are capable of becoming beings far more complex than he had considered after Sgloomi Po develops the ability to digest a cheese and pickle sandwich.
Snatas once roamed the whole of the System and were feared on all four Wanderers. They have eyes like burning coals and four sets of teeth. They are deathly white and bloated, with brittle strands of pure white hair protruding from their jowls, and wear cowls and robes made from the blood-caked skins of their victims. They used to burrow their semi-lairs into the bedrock of the Wanderers. They can speak but are almost completely mindless, and are abhorravores, feeding on the endocrine secretions of humanoids undergoing a specific blend of horror and revulsion. They travel on travois drawn by flying deer-like creatures with dragon-like wings. They are descended from semi-mythical creatures that once dwelt on Earth. The Snata encountered by Roz and Chris is probably the only surviving example.
Whilst on board the Schirron Dream, the Doctor briefly adopts the role of ship's cook and dons an apron and white chef's hat, which he wears on top of his usual hat. His pockets contain various scraps of paper, a couple of yo-yos, a wind-dried amputated foot, a miniature of brandy, a half-pint bottle of Bells scotch whiskey, a bottle of "Bartle and Critchlowes Patented and Very Efficacious Horse Oil Linament" made from genuine horses, and a crystal orchid. He also carries a bag of chocolate-coated liquorice, garlic and spam, and a spool of copper wire. He has a black leather medicine bag that he produces, seemingly from nowhere, on Aneas. He secretes electrostatically active substances from his pores that allows humans to handle the Elysian Eye relatively safely. His Time Lord pattern-recognition processes are linked to automatic and overriding reflexes that make him think that he might automatically kill the Charon on sight. When the Charon attacks him, Leetha sees images of his previous incarnations, his "other" and finally his "other other" body [see Lungbarrow]. After he confronts the Charon, he is found wearing a small silver badge showing two stylized faces, one happy, one sad.
Benny dons a khaki shirt and shorts and Chukka boots whilst exploring the jungle in the TARDIS. She drinks Frascati with the Doctor. She fancies visiting Ptolemaic Egypt, Hellenic Greece, and Centauri IV during terraformation. She briefly gets very high due to the levels of LSD in the atmosphere of the Ring. She has visited Puerto Luminan colonies in the twenty-second century immediately prior to Earth Force annexation. She uses her brief military training to break a would-be rapist's nose and dislocate his shoulder after he bruises her breast by grabbing it roughly. She gets a split eyebrow when the Doctor turns the Schirron Dream's artificial gravity on. The Doctor gives her cocoa made with frothy buttermilk, to which he adds brandy, on Prometheus. As well as Down Among the Dead Men, Benny is the author of Head Invaders: Asinine Quasi-Pyschological Old Toot of Your Times, the computer-assisted compendium Incredibly Bad Jokes of the Twentieth Century, and the never-published comic book The Forty-Five-Second Piglet, which was instantly commissioned when Benny happened to walk through big building in New York in 1988 with an English accent, whilst on a small errand for the Doctor.
Roz smokes Cuban-leaf and Lebanese Gold cigars. She once experienced a heroin high by electroencephalic stimulation as part of her Adjudicator training. The Doctor has given her an expansive bedchamber with an en suite brass and marble bathroom. The Sloathes inject her and Chris with millions of mutated Sloathe microspores, which will eat each other until only one remains; this sole remaining Sloathe microspore will then attach itself to a blood vessel wall and start consuming their bodies from within. Sgloomi Po secretes a serum to cure them.
The Doctor asks the TARDIS to do some work on Chris' biomorphic pattern-signature without bothering to tell him, briefly transforming him into a two-metre tall vaguely humanoid reptile. In his normal form, as Benny and Roz unexpectedly discover, he is exceptionally well endowed. Having found himself naked, he dons jungle-shorts and a vest. He later changes into monkey boots and denims and a multicoloured Tyrannosaurus Rex-skin jacket. When Chris was young, he used to watch EarthDoom XV, a low budget and highly fictionalized account of the Third Dalek Wars.
Wolsey can get food from the food machine in the TARDIS by batting it with his head, and can get water from the small stream that runs down one of the corridors. The TARDIS gives him electrostatic shocks if he goes into areas it doesn't want him to go in. He excretes in Benny's underwear drawer and kills her hamster that she has been using in an experiment to breed hamsters that can do handbrake turns.
The TARDIS falls victim to a reality bomb in the Horsehead Nebula, which damages it and forces it to materialize in the System to recuperate. Its outer plasmic shell temporarily deforms as a result of the damage, causing the signs on the front to be miss-spelt. The TARDIS contains an artificial jungle filled with pseudo-Earth relics, including a ziggurat. There is a pool in the jungle containing goldfish, one of which has markings on it that read "Eat at Utherbotham's Hygenic and Inexpensive Fried Fish Emporium." The Doctor keeps a Victrola in the TARDIS on which he plays a George Formby record, as well as Georgian silver wine cooler, and a Wedgwood plate. There is a hothouse full of Proximan flesh-flensers, each filled with little rubber tubes from tanks filled with blood. There is an odd area of buttresses, cornices and halls boasting whistling spiders and burning kites, which Bernice hypothesizes are the TARDIS' memory banks. There are some old Purdeys and an Ice Warrior sklaki sword in the Curios Room. The TARDIS draws its energy from the Eye of Harmony (The Deadly Assassin), described here as a White Hole [because it emits energy to the TARDIS from within itself]. The TARDIS is provoked into killing the thing that was once Sloathe Most Supreme Captain Trenkor Lep, but leaves every other Sloathe and humanoid on the planet alive.
Gallifreyan bog-truffle tincture is a Gallifreyan drink. On Praxis IV, the dominant predator resembles a perambulatory radio telescope and hunts its indigenous prey, a kind of pale-blue frogskinned rabbit on wheels, in the planet's crystal jungles. The Doctor's list of periods of history to avoid includes territorial expansions by Solarians, Trigorians, Chlamedians, and Altairian XIV Bogwoppets. Planets mentioned here include Ramos and Samathrace. The Doctor mentions bottles of Oolonian Chablais. Books on Planet X plundered from elsewhere include Tristram Shandy, Titus Andronicus Restored, Paradise Mislaid, and Fly Fishing by J. R. Hartley. Under normal circumstances, only one in ten thousand Solarians is capable of interbreeding with one in ten thousand humans.
Links: There are references to Original Sin (including mentions of Falardi), Daleks, Cybermen, Tegan, Event One and the Zero Room (Castrovalva), Jamie, K9, the Cloister Bell (Logopolis), FLORANCE (Transit), Ice Warriors, "acid slugs down a coal mine" (The Green Death), Hoothi (Love and War), Yeti (The Abominable Snowmen, The Web of Fear), Sea Devils (The Sea Devils, Warriors of the Deep), vampires (State of Decay, The Curse of Fenric, Goth Opera, Blood Harvest), and Rassilon. Hokesh, mentioned here for the first time, is eventually seen in Citadel of Dreams. The reference to Mesopotamian "Gods" might be a reference to Timewyrm: Genesys. Benny makes an especially barbed reference to Jan's death (Love and War). When Six channels the energy of the TARDIS into the Charon, the occupants see an image of the Master from The Claws of Axos [hence Benny doesn't recognise him - see First Frontier]. The Morlocks mentioned on page 193 may be a reference to Timelash.
Location: The Horsehead Nebula, date unknown; the System, including Planet X, Prometheus, Aneas, Elysium, Reklon, and the Sun, and on board the Schirron Dream, date unknown.
Future History: Head Invaders: Asinine Quasi-Psychological Old Toot of Your Times is published in 1997 and features contributions from Professor Bernice Summerfield.
In 2001 it is discovered that Titus Andronicus was incomplete and was originally intended to be a farce containing sight gags and gratuitous smut; this version is filmed in 2004 as Carry On Amputating.
The Dead Geek Wars saw the combined might of the Terran Empire attempt to conquer every other sentient life form in the Galaxy, under the leadership of the New Old New Old Good Old New Old Little Old Islam-Christian Fundamentalist Republican Right Party premier "Resurrection Bob" McGobglurk and his wife Yoko.
Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor has visited Olympus. The Doctor and Bernice have visited Berlin between World Wars One and Two. The Doctor has encountered Bogwoppets from Altair XIV, and Greki. He once had an unfortunate experience in the Gallifreyan retro-engineered spare-body-parts repository. Benny once visited New York in 1988 on an errand for the Doctor. Benny and the Doctor took a trip to the Puerto Luminan colonies in the 22nd century, just prior to the Earth Force annexation. Around 1849 the Doctor ran a little place in the Yukon. Pages 311 and 312 imply that the Doctor has visited Yani's people before, becoming known as "the Magic Man", although he has never visited this pocket dimension before. [Perhaps it was later in his timestream, or before they were sucked into the dimension.]
The Bottom Line: 'You've taken the unending horror of it and turned it into something with which you can live. You've turned it into jokes.' Exactly what the reader thinks of Sky Pirates! depends on his or her appreciation of Stone's prose, which is, essentially, bonkers. If you can cope with it however, Sky Pirates! is a hysterically funny read, brimming with imagination and some spectacularly detailed world building in the same league as Ben Aaronovitch or Lawrence Miles', and boasting a Doctor so manipulative and god-like that he makes the "Cartmel Master Plan" look like the work of Beatrix Potter. Stone's interest in clockwork, which is revisited in later novels, is highly distinctive, and the only real fault of the novel is that it is perhaps slightly too long and rather unfocused compared with the author's later work.