The Tzer Island book blog features book reviews written by TChris, the blog's founder.  I hope the blog will help readers discover good books and avoid bad books.  I am a reader, not a book publicist.  This blog does not exist to promote particular books, authors, or publishers.  I therefore do not participate in "virtual book tours" or conduct author interviews.  You will find no contests or giveaways here.

The blog's nonexclusive focus is on literary/mainstream fiction, thriller/crime/spy novels, and science fiction.  While the reviews cover books old and new, in and out of print, the blog does try to direct attention to books that have been recently published.  Reviews of new (or newly reprinted) books generally appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Reviews of older books appear on occasional Sundays.  Readers are invited and encouraged to comment.  See About Tzer Island for more information about this blog, its categorization of reviews, and its rating system.

Entries in Alan Dean Foster (3)

Monday
Nov062017

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.

RECOMMENDED

Friday
Jan302015

Quozl by Alan Dean Foster  

First published in 1989; published digitally by Open Road Media on November 4, 2014

If you are tired of stories in which aliens look like lizards and are intent on killing as many humans as possible, Quozl is for you. The Open Road edition of Alan Dean Foster's 1989 novel contains a brief biography of Foster and several pictures of the talented author.

Quozlene has become overpopulated due to the ravenous sexual appetites of the Quozl. Population was once controlled by war but, in more civilized times, peaceful but desperate Quozl have joined settlement ships that voyage to the stars in the hope of finding a habitable planet. It is a one-way trip; failure means death.

Looks-at-Charts is a scout on a ship that is reaching its destination, the planet they have named Shiraz, after a six generation journey. Shiraz turns out to be inhabited by a population at war and so, of course, you can guess what planet that is. The Quozl burrow into the hills of Idaho, confident that they will remain undiscovered. First contact does not go well for the Quozl, who are unprepared for the wholly uncivilized greeting they receive. Second contact is a vast improvement, although only one human and one Quozl know about it. Contacts continue and are eventually expanded, although the existence of the Quozl is concealed from the world at large for most of the novel. About two-thirds of the way into the novel, the story takes an amusing turn.

Creating aliens and alien environments is Alan Dean Foster's strength. He gives the Quozl a richly imagined culture. For example, ritual challenges combine a form of martial arts dance (draw blood, you lose) with verbal jousting; eloquent insults contribute to a winning performance. Social encounters demand extravagant forms of politeness and self-effacement at risk of losing status. The Quozl happily indulge in uninhibited sex several times a day with varying partners. In fact, as the Quozl study humans from their hidden colony, they quickly realize the cause of all human strife: humans just don't have enough sex!

In other respects, as well, Foster uses the Quozl observation of humans to illuminate human absurdity. Just as one culture on Earth often views another culture as bizarre, the Quozl regard human behavior on the whole as puzzling, if not insane. Foster has great fun with those observations while making some telling points.

The manner in which the Quozl are eventually revealed to humans is clever, original, and very funny. While the final chapters might be a little too expository, they are satisfying. The ending contains a final twist that is true to Quozl nature.

Quozl is a gentle, charming novel that is nevertheless meaningful. Trust is its central theme. Trust between civilizations begins with one person trusting another -- or, in the case of First Contact, with one human and one alien trusting each other. That's a refreshing change from lizard aliens and humans trying to kill each other. Perhaps another moral is the novel's reminder that appearance is important to perception. Cute and cuddly Quozl are easier to befriend than lizard aliens would be, but their nonthreatening appearance also makes it easy for Quozl to get what they want from humans. Alien lizards, no matter how friendly, would never have that same advantage.

RECOMMENDED

Friday
Feb172012

Midworld by Alan Dean Foster

First published in 1975

Long before the concept of world building gained currency among science fiction fans, Alan Dean Foster built one of the most imaginative worlds in the genre.  Midworld takes place on an unnamed planet covered with dense vegetation, rising from the surface (Lower Hell) to the sky (Upper Hell) in seven layers.  Although it is filled with predatory plants and animals, humans -- the descendants of a crashed spacecraft -- have carved out a niche in the middle levels.  They have adapted to the world to such an extent that they seem to communicate in an almost worshipful way with the trees and vegetation that make their survival possible.  They “emfol” with plant life, an empathic form of communication that assures the plant’s willingness to be used for their purposes.  A science station, illegally established on the world by a corporate entity, is unaware of the world’s human population until a skimmer flown by two scientists is swatted from the air by a flying nightmare.  The scientists -- Logan and Cohoma -- are saved by Born, who eventually leads them on a dangerous journey back to their station.  When Born learns what the science station is doing, conflict ensues.

Midworld combines a nifty story of corporate greed with a lost world adventure.  Most of the novel -- the best part of the novel -- pits humans against the many dangers that Foster imagines on a world that is both treacherous and (for those who understand it) welcoming.  In the final quarter of the novel, the humans who have adapted to the world and the newcomers who want to exploit it are not playing well together.  In that regard, Midworld develops a less-than-subtle pro-environmentalist message, one that cleverly transplants the Gaia theory to an alien world.  The human inhabitants of the world take only what they need, and only after they emfol with the plant life to determine whether the plant is ready to be taken.  The corporate outsiders are, of course, taking whatever they want, without regard to the world’s needs, and are thus (at least in Born’s opinion) set on a path that will lead to the world’s destruction.  The heavy-handedness of the “good versus evil” storyline is offset in the final pages, which challenge the reader to reconsider the nature of good and evil in the circumstances that Foster imagines.

Foster’s writing style is lively; it occasionally has a literary feel that is uncommon in genre fiction.  For that reason, and for the brilliantly conceived world that Foster envisions, this largely forgotten novel comes close to meriting the status of a science fiction classic.

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