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Every now and then Astounding (excuse me--"Analog") surprises me. The end of last year saw some of the worst issues of the digest ever, with stories as poor as any that used to populate the legion of now-defunct science fiction pulps.

Then along comes Harry Harrison, a brand-new writer, so far as I can tell, with one of the best serial novels I've read in a long time.

Ever get the feeling that the world is out to get you? What if it were literally true? This is the premise of Harrison's interstellar adventure, Deathworld, in which the psychically gifted (and crooked) gambler, Jason dinAlt, is contracted by the ambassador from the planet Pyrrus to win a tremendous sum of funds to finance a war. It turns out that the war is against the planet, itself, which seems to have mobilized all of its biological forces to wipe out the colony there.

Pyruss is deadliest of planets. With its high gravity, eccentric orbit and overactive vulcanism, its physical qualities alone would be enough to deter any would-be exploiters. But Pyrrus is also home to a highly inimical set of flora and fauna whose sole purpose is to eradicate humans. It is a nightmare assortment employing fang, talon, and poison, continually evolving to make life impossible for the colonists.

For the Pyrrans, it has been centuries-long struggle of increasing difficulty, maintained in the hope of eventual victory. For dinAlt, with a fresh outsider's prospective, the fight is an exercise in futility—and a paradoxical puzzle to be resolved. After all, what motive force could impel an entire ecosystem to direct its fury against one small group?

There is a great deal of physical scope to this story, from the gambling halls of Cassylia, to the drab city of the Pyrran colony, to the vast wilds of the Pyrran hinterlands. There is also an impressive amount of emotional scope. This is not, as one might expect within the pages of John Campbell's magazine, the story of a muscular ubermensch's victorious combats against the savage brainless monsters of Pyruss. Rather, it is the story of the weakest man on a planet trying to effect a peaceful solution to a problem that appears, on its face, insoluble. Deathworld is also supported by a fine cast of characters, particularly the tough Pyrran ambassador, Kerk, and the self-reliant and liberated space pilot, Meta.

I don't want to spoil any more of the novel for you. Go ye and read it. You'll be glad of the time invested.


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Date: 2015-02-12 01:32 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] agharta75
Harrison's doing something very subversive in that story, heh heh heh. I wonder how he got it past Campbell.

He has a gift for satire, and I hope he uses it again. Might he have anything in the works for "Galaxy"?
Edited Date: 2015-02-12 01:33 pm (UTC)

A Pyrrhic Victory

Date: 2015-02-13 10:38 pm (UTC)
victoria_silverwolf: (Default)
From: [personal profile] victoria_silverwolf
Thanks for letting me take a look at "Deathworld." I read the three installments in three days. (The cover art for these three issues, by the way, seemed to vary quite a bit from good to poor to excellent.)

This first novel from an author who has usually been seen between the covers of the minor magazines was quite impressive. (Maybe if he expands it a bit for book publication, as some authors do, it will lose that slightly rushed feeling I got, particularly near the end. That's a minor quibble, particularly for a fast-paced adventure story like this one.)

The writing was vivid (particularly the myriad dangers of Pyrrhus) and the characters interesting. (I liked the fact that the protagonist often realizes that he's in way over his head, unlike the typical ultra-competent "Astounding/Analog" hero.) The culture of the "junkers" and the "grubbers" was nicely developed.

The plot gimmick was a good one, and does seem to show a point of view other than the prevailing one that humans must conquer. For this magazine, it's practically a pacifist message!

I think Harrison got this one past JWC because it's undeniably a "good read" for somebody who's just looking for an action-packed yarn, and because it makes use of psi powers (which I thought were going to be irrelevant at the start, but which turned out to be critical.)


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