Part One deals with Earth's First Contact with aliens. A 400 meter diameter white sphere lands in Central Park, on top of a company softball game. The aliens announce over every available communications device on the planet, in appropriate language (Except Australia, who received their broadcast in French. Even aliens make mistakes.) that humanity is going to be tested for entry in The Galactic League. However, this is to be a trial-by-combat. The alien ship abducts a rather ordinary "road maintenance crew" ... no, actually it abducts a vicious street gang named The Bloody Deckers (Thanks to Lost in Translation. Remember about aliens not being perfect.) as representatives of Earth to participate in the trials. If the humans win, the Earth is admitted into the League. If they lose, Earth will be destroyed. Actually that's not really true either.
In actual fact, the ship is run by a bunch of interstellar criminals, headed by the blue-furred Leader Idow, who like to land on pre-contact planets and screw with them. The participants never win, get shredded by increasingly violent "tests," and the aliens sit back and watch the chaos as the planet's inhabitants panic at their imminent destruction. Only this time, perhaps the aliens picked the wrong road maintenance crew to participate. Part one culminates in The Great Golden Ones arriving and saving the day - kinda. In the end, Earth is deemed too violent and primitive to be allowed admission into the League, and The Great Golden Ones blockade the planet until we can learn to play nice.
Part Two deals with the events that occur after humanity decides that The Great Golden Ones are a bunch of tossers, decide to take matters in their own hands, build their own spaceship, and take their petition for admission directly to the Galactic League themselves. In the meantime, they invent an imaginary material, bring back to life an extinct race of aliens, spread chaos across the galaxy, and generally make The Great Golden Ones look like the overbearing, self-important tossers that they kinda are.
It is, obviously, a comedy that goes on to poke fun of, toy with, and deconstruct just about every Sci Fi trope there is.
Some of the tropes speared in this book are:
- Affectionate Parody: While making fun of so many Sci Fi tropes, it's clear that Phil and Nick love their subject matter.
- Air-Vent Passageway: Lampshaded and played with.
- Beyond the Impossible: Humanity revives an extinct race.
- Blade Enthusiast: Chisel, who carries hundreds of knives at any given point in time. He survives being stomped by a giant robot due to the sheer number of knives providing impromptu armor.
- BFG: As befits a parody of Space Opera and Sci Fi, there are quite a few. Of special note is the Atomic Vortex Cannon. Available in convenient squad-size as well as giant spaceship-mounted size. Crosses over with Wave-Motion Gun.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The oddities of faster-than-light travel in this universe mean that different colors travel at different velocities. White is pretty fast, but Gold is the fastest of all, which is why only The Great Golden Ones are allowed to use gold-colored ships.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Intentionally invoked.
- Dyson Sphere: One is home to The Galactic League.
- Explorers have found another Dyson Sphere in uncharted space. When opened, it contained another, smaller sphere. That one itself, contained yet another. After going through dozens of levels of consecutively smaller spheres, the explorers decided to leave it alone. With all the amateur lunatics in the galaxy, nobody wanted to meet professionals.
- The Engineer: Trell, previously Idow's Technician, helps Earth build its own space fleet.
- Extreme Omnisexual: When the rest of Squee's reptilian race decided to go and evolve to higher life forms without him, he decided he would repopulate his species with any and every even vaguely reptilian alien he could find. Surprisingly it works, although all his offspring immediately evolve to higher life forms after birth.
- Fantastic Medicinal Bodily Product: There is a race of sapient trees whose leaves, seeds, and other body parts have remarkable healing properties when used as medicine by any other race in the galaxy. On top of that, the trees themselves are doctors.
- First Contact:
- The First Contact Team assembled by the United Nations 15 years ago for just such an event. They have gotten pretty good at playing poker over the last 15 years.
- Full-Frontal Assault: Avantor escapes her holding cell sans vêtements and takes on the Space Marines guarding her cell.
- Heel–Face Turn: Trell, Idow's Technician, winds up working with Earth. Not that he was especially bad to begin with.
- Hellhole Prison: The planet Galopticon 7. Actually totally made up, but with such a fierce reputation that criminals will gladly plea-bargain into just being thrown into a nuclear disposal rather than being sent there.
- His Name Really Is "Barkeep": The avantor, Avantor, and her 17, 17.
- Humans Are Warriors: We're too vicious to be let into The Galactic League, even though we kinda took out Enemy Number One in the whole universe.
- Humans Are Superior: Toyed with. Mostly we're just too stubborn to go down without a fight. The Great Golden Ones have gotten complacent with their reputation generally being enough to stop anyone going against them. Humanity manage to actually invent a material that The Great Golden Ones made up on the spot, takes out the universe's Enemy Number One, resurrects an extinct alien race by trying the obvious solution no one else had thought to, and generally makes The Great Golden Ones look like a bunch of tossers.
- Interspecies Romance: In the final pages between a Space Marine and Avantor.
- Literal-Minded: Oh Avantor, you should have known better than to order your 17 to "secure the hyperspace navigation cube at all costs! Eat it if you must!"
- Lost in Translation: The "road maintenance crew" initially picked up by the aliens. Actually a vicious "street gang" with a combined rap sheet measured in yards.
- Toyed with several more times, such as when The Bloody Deckers are speaking to the First Contact Team and the alien translator is translating from English, to ... whatever ... and back into English, making their diction seem considerably more proper than in reality.
- Aliens nearly universally refer to humanity's home planet as "Dirt."
- Partially lampshaded by the denigrating observation that Humanity is so primitive they still refer to their homeworld as 'Dirt', implying that this is a stage all species go through.
- Mugging the Monster: Leader Idow and his crew finally ran into a bunch of even more vicious and psychotic sociopaths than themselves.
- Nigh-Invulnerability: Deflector plating deflects the blast of a Great Golden One Dispersal Ray that "could punch a hole in a neutron star." It's vulnerable to physical attacks however.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: What The Bloody Deckers mostly do to Idow's "tests."
- Noodle Implements: The alien sitting by himself playing with a piece of string and small fruit in the crowded Space Bar is left alone, because nobody wants to bother an assassin.
- Planet of Hats: Most alien species are portrayed like this, such as the RporRians. a race of intelligent cockroaches who are ruthless merchants in the sense that the Moon is a small rock.
- Punch-Clock Villain: Trell, one of Idow's flunkies, is not a bad guy, quite cowardly, and is only in it because his parent sold him to Idow to settle a debt.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: Avantor and her 17 feel that they may have been assigned to monitor Earth as punishment due to laxness in their duties. (They were.)
- Running Gag:
- PFC Furstenberg is repeatedly field-promoted and -demoted for alternately ridiculously heroic, and unintentionally stupid actions.
- The Space Marines coming up with truly awful nickname candidates for their squad's custom-made rifles.
- Starfish Aliens: While most aliens are humanoid, especially the Great Golden Ones, there are quite a few distinctly non-humanoid aliens, such as Gasterphaz, the sentient mushroom.
- Stupidity-Inducing Attack:
- The Stop That Cannon. "Fires" a powerful psychic command to STOP THAT! at its target(s).
- An offshoot, only authorized for use against noisy reporters, is the SHUT UP! pistol.
- Tempting Fate / Million to One Chance: During one of their regular poker games, Nikolai of the First Contact Team gets a royal flush. He has had a perfect royal flush only four times before. Each time something horrible happened to him. Guess who lands right as he tries to play his hand.
- Wave-Motion Gun: As with BFG, many are represented. Again, the ship-sized Atomic Vortex Cannon stands out.
- Wretched Hive:
- If the space police won't deal with you, you gotta go to the Bad Guy Bar where the worst of the scum of the galaxy hang out to get anything done.
- Or visit the literal wretched hive, RpoR - the homeworld of an insectoid species under total quarantine (enforced by an elaborate orbital minefield) by the Great Golden Ones, lest they get out and overrun the galaxy with their uncontrolled breeding.