Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Reading Challenge #4 - The Tar-Aiym Krang, Alan Dean Foster

The Tar-Aiym Krang is hardly classic sf by anyone's definition. But I vaguely recall enjoying it and its three sequels when I read them back in my late teens. And it was unlikely I'd ever get around to trying them again unless I bunged the first book on a reading challenge list. The same, of course, was also true for Vance's Star King... and that pretty much cured me of wanting to reread the rest of the series (see here).

So, The Tar-Aiym Krang. First published in 1972, this was Foster's first novel as well as the first book in his popular Flinx & Pip series of, at present, fourteen novels. Flinx is an orphaned young man of (mostly) good character, but dubious morals and profession, in the city of Drallar on the world of Moth; Pip is his minidrag, a flying poisonous reptile. Flinx is also a little bit telepathic, and Pip is empathic.

Flinx stumbles across a mugging and is forced to intervene when Pip attacks one of the muggers. Both the victim and the two muggers end up dead, and Flinx finds a map clutched in the victim's fist. He takes it. Shortly afterwards he agrees to guide a human and a thranx, Tse-Mallory and Truzenzuzex, around Drallar, and is present when they visit the home of wealthy merchant, Malaika. Tse-Mallory and Truzenzuzex want Malaika to finance an expedition to recover a legendary alien artefact. The Tar-Aiym had once ruled part of the galaxy some 500,000 years earlier. And then abruptly disappeared. Legend had it they'd met a race who blocked their expansion, and the biological weapon they developed to destroy this race backfired and wiped out themselves as well. However, the Tar-Aiym were also working on another project, the Krang, which is either a weapon or a musical instrument. No one knows. It could be both, like a bagpipe....

The Tar-Aiym Krang is a straightforward quest. Flinx joins Tse-Mallory, Truzenzuzex, Malaika and assorted spear-carriers on their hunt for the Krang. They have adventures. Unfortunately, it's crude stuff. The writing tries for flavour but fails. The characters in Draller talk in some sort of cod-historical accent which just looks silly. When Flinx is onboard Malaika's ship, he helpfully asks questions on everything from space travel to galactic history, resulting in great info-dumps of background. The characterisation relies on stereotype - Flinx is every artful dodger who has ever appeared in fiction, and a little bit too good to be plausible. The other characters are... roles. To be fair, this was a first novel and it's thirty-seven years old, but it certainly compares unfavourably with first sf novels of the twenty-first century.

I said earlier that I had vague memories of enjoying The Tar-Aiym Krang and its three sequels - Orphan Star, The End of the Matter and Bloodhype. I also have on my book-shelves Flinx in Flux, a later sequel written when Foster returned to Flinx & Pip eleven years after The End of the Matter. (Bloodhype was actually written second, although its story is chronologically last of the four.) I seem to recall not being very impressed with it. Certainly I never bothered trying the nine other books in the series....

Ah well, another book I fondly remember proves not to be not very good without the rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia. Looks like I'll be taking The Tar-Aiym Krang and its sequels off my books-shelves.

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