When I was in my teens, I read a number of Alan Dean Foster's books: most memorable among those were Icerigger and The Tar-Aiym Krang. I re-read both in the last few years, and discovered that, while his writing isn't precisely Michael Ondaatje, the stories are a huge amount of fun. And - important to the review at hand - self-contained.
Recently, I stumbled upon a copy of Quofum by Foster (I believe I got it from the Library's discards store for $0.50). Like most of his other books, it's set in the Humanx Commonwealth. Our protagonists are a group of explorer-scientists sent to the world of Quofum, which is interesting because it's not always there. This is somewhat disconcerting, as it's an approximately Earth-sized world that just ... vanishes occasionally. So a small team is sent to land and see what's going on. What they find is a world teaming with life - in fact, a variety of life so diverse that it makes no sense: mutation and evolution gone insane, but without the radiation that they would expect to cause such a thing.
The list of things wrong with this book is so long that I'm going to make it literally that: a list.
- his prose has smoothed out a bit, although it's still utilitarian adventure-writer kind of stuff, but now without the characters and interesting ideas that made his early work appealing
- the characters are generic and barely distinguishable once you get past the mid-point of the book
- Flinx (Foster's best known character) is mentioned in the blurb on the back of the book and yet never appears in the book
- the book opens on a character called Tellenberg, and he sort of feels like the main protagonist ... but he's killed at the mid-point of the book (I didn't bother with a SPOILER ALERT because this book is so godawful you'll never read it)
- the "bad guy" is a "Qwarm," the bad guys he's used since the third or fourth book he wrote: no effort is put to motivation or reason, it just is
- the "discoveries" our explorers make are throw-away: Foster's not going anywhere with them, there's no real point and no real interest
- the conclusion is so blatantly deus ex machina that it's kind of jaw-dropping: oh look, the planet is the product of a massively advanced technology
- our protagonists are left in limbo
- our antagonist (such as he is) is left in limbo
- the great evil in the book is ... "The Great Evil" - really
- the book initially appears to be stand-alone, but the ending makes it clear that it's just a tiny and unimportant piece in a bigger - and not remotely interesting - puzzle
Publisher's Weekly was more polite, saying "... it's hard to see why one needs an entire book of what is, essentially, backstory."
I get most of my books from the library (I work there). Of those I acquire, they usually go one of two places: if I really love them, they stay on my shelves. The rest go down to the laundry room in my building, where there's a shelf of books people leave for others to read. But Quofum has a special place: it went into the recycling bin because no one else should be forced to waste their time on it.