If the suit fits . . .

<strong>Mister Roberts</strong>

<em>Alexei Sayle</em>

Sceptre, 192pp, £12.99

When Laurence, an ageing BBC costume designer living in a small Spanish village, sees a bright light pass across the night sky, he assumes it is a shooting star. In fact, it is a spacecraft whose alien pilot is armed with a Planetary Exploration Suit – a hollow robot designed to look like a human being, albeit an oversized, dead-eyed and incredibly strong one.

When the suit falls into the hands of Stanley, a weedy 13-year-old, he suddenly has a monstrously powerful adult body at his disposal. Unfortunately, so does his abrasive, grasping mother Donna, who now has the power to get whatever she wants – as long as she can find someone small enough to operate the suit.

Once he has used this oddball set-up to observe that absolute power corrupts, Sayle doesn’t have much to add. There are plenty of his customary surreal jokes: “Donna comforted herself with the thought that going out with a robot who was really her son wasn’t by a long way the weirdest relationship she’d ever been in.” But he’s much funnier making digs at the TV industry – for example, when Laurence reflects that “all the thrusting young directors and producers who’d started out with Laurence were now organic sheep farmers, in psychiatric care or were commissioning editors and channel controllers”.

This article first appeared in the 24 November 2008 issue of the New Statesman, How to get us out of this mess