'Orphan Star' - Book Review

Orphan Star
by Alan Dean Foster
Del Rey, 234p.

I read several of Alan Dean Foster's Science Fiction adventure stories when I was young, and I still have fond memories of some of these - although I knew by the time I was 25 that I really don't like most of Foster's later stuff. Icerigger and The Tar-Aiym Krang were two of his earliest books, both of which I've re-read in the last decade and still enjoy. He likes big words - often in inappropriate places - but they were nevertheless entertaining adventures. So I decided to locate and re-read Orphan Star. It's one of Foster's earliest books, and the third book he wrote about his favourite protagonist, Flinx (The Tar-Aiym Krang was the first).

When a businessman with perverse pleasures in mind tries to kidnap Flinx to assist with his twisted fantasies (not quite in the way you might think ... in fact I would say modern computers have completely destroyed Foster's idea), Flinx's "minidrag" Pip (a flying poisonous snake) and a friend of his get him out. But the businessman's mentioning Flinx's parents is like showing heroine to an addict: Flinx turns into an utterly obsessed asshole who endangers everyone around him for any possible further clue of his parentage. Flinx is usually a "reluctant hero" - he's just going about his business, but ends up having to save the world to do it. But here I'm not sure he even qualifies as an anti-hero: he's just an asshole. (I suspect I was much more ... "accepting" ... as a teenage reader.)

His luck is also ... improbable. In the extreme. As an example, he breaks into a Church facility (the Church is essentially galaxy-spanning - and a force for good, mostly), and then the head of security says "hey, come see this comatose guy - maybe you can tell us something," which gives Flinx a clue for his own quest. Somehow I just don't feel like that would actually happen. After that, he kidnaps the niece of a good friend of his. He's just ... very, very unappealing in this one.

Flinx comes with a couple power-ups over normal humans: he's an (inconsistent) empathic telepath, and he has a flying poisonous snake who's very good at sensing people who mean him harm. At the end of The Tar-Aiym Krang he got another major power-up. And he gets another at the end of this book. Foster wrote these before video games and power-ups became a major thing, but he definitely anticipated it. Of course, right at the beginning of the book he pretty much entirely negated the last book's power-up by saying "Flinx's powers were just as unpredictable as ever."

A couple minor quibbles: around page 180, there's an editing disaster. We lose what appears to be a couple paragraphs of dialogue, and then for the next page, words and sentences disappear. This seems to have been an editing problem rather than a printing problem. And then there's Foster vs. the Metric System. He clearly decided that the Metric System was the way of the future ... and just as clearly didn't understand it. He has human scale stuff approximately right: Small Symm (so named because he's huge) is 250 cm tall. But the plateau on Hivehom is "2000 km tall." Should you be wondering if he meant that, Flinx climbs down that distance in under a day so I'm assuming he meant 2000 metres. I wonder if either of these things were fixed in later editions (I was reading a battered first edition paperback).

This book was very disappointing: the writing was sloppy, and our protagonist was very unappealing.