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Strange Music by Alan Dean Foster

Published by Del Rey Books on November 7, 2017

Strange Music in the latest entry in Alan Dean Foster’s series of novels about the human empath named Flinx and his empathic pet/companion, a flying bat-lizard named Pip. As the novel opens, Flinx and Pip are living with his Flinx’s wife Clarity on Cachalot, a world covered with water, populated by friendly cetaceans. The world’s few humans, including Flinx, make their homes on floating platforms.

Flinx receives an unexpected visit from a Thranx named Sylzenzuzex, who has come on behalf of the Church, and indirectly the Commonwealth, to recruit Flinx’s assistance. This is not the first time the Commonwealth has set aside its desire to give Flinx a good mindwipe in order to exploit his empathic talents.

Someone has been using forbidden technology on the remote, developing world of Largess. That violation of Commonwealth law is bad enough, but the same person has kidnapped the daughter of an important leader, an act that might disrupt the balance of power on Largess and set back the unification that would be necessary for the world to participate more fully in the Commonwealth. Flinx must get her back and catch the scofflaw.

Communication with Larians is possible only by people who can carry a tune, as their language is sung. The language makes clear (but only to Larians) whether the singer is being honest. Flinx can sing a bit, but his empathic abilities allow him to emulate the innate Larian ability to detect deceit. He is therefore a perfect choice to investigate the problems that are taking place on Largess.

The musical language makes the dialog in Strange Music fun to read. It’s like Shakespearean rap with a Bob Dylan influence. The story itself is fun but a bit fluffy. Strange Music is a simple adventure story that rewards the reader with simple pleasures. A new character pops in rather too conveniently at the end, but notwithstanding that small complaint, I can recommend the story to Foster’s fans or to any science fiction fan who wants to spend time with an unchallenging read.

I should note that a forward by Kevin Hearne suggests in veiled language that Foster’s fiction doesn’t have any of those creepy liberal ideas that right-wing or libertarian sf fans so deplore. This has become a point of honor among certain sf fans who fail to embrace the diversity of thought that has always been the genre’s strength. I wonder, however, whether the comment applies to Strange Music. The novel is premised on the notion that a world’s worthiness depends on the ability of its people to unify, rather than living in clans that war with each other because of their cultural differences. That decidedly liberal idea seems to have escaped Hearne’s notice. The same could be said of certain other themes, such as the evil of persecution by a dominant religion, the value of empathy, and the equality of women (exemplified by the new character who pops in at the novel’s end). Like most intelligent science fiction, Strange Music seems to me to accept the value of liberal ideas as a given.


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