The Astral Disruptor by Rhys Hughes takes place in Earth’s future and concerns the sudden disappearance of the sky, or more accurately, the Earth is found to be encased in a rock-like shell. This is a mystery that must be solved. Enter noted Absurdity Investigator Sampietro Mischief who is hired by Defective Respecter Magnano to resolve the situation.
While the setup of The Astral Disruptor positions itself as a straightforward mystery, it’s clear from early on that the author’s approach is much more lighthearted. Mischief, for example, lives in the city of Buzzati (named after the Italian author) and soon makes calls to other cities in what is known as “Literary Italy”. There is also a running gag with the increasing impropriety of Mischief’s mechanical “monster”, Chives. This is not to imply that Hughes is playing strictly for laughs; indeed he even meta-observes that “Literary Italy or Lit-It is shaped like a boot, the critical boot that kicks the author who tries too hard to be clever.” The humor is more of a nod than a nudge, which is to say that Hughes’ use of humor is perfectly doled out: frequent enough to elicit smiles yet not too prevalent to intrude on the story.
Meanwhile, that story itself is enjoyable throughout. Oddly, Mischief seems to be something of a lazy detective, ascertaining much of his information from television instead of footwork, but those ruminations are nonetheless enjoyable, if only for their insight about the world Hughes has diligently built. Michief’s powers of observation are keen and he is able to deduce much, driving this short story to a decent conclusion.