Philip Jose Farmer
In a repressive future society, a jack-of-all-trades linguist exchanges cultural restrictions for a long trip to another world. Whe he finds there shakes and reshapes his world view and his heart.
In this Hugo-winning novella, Farmer provides more complex characters than in much of his later work. The hero is a rebel, but not too much of one; he’s caught up by the beliefs he was raised with, and has difficulty getting past them. In this, he doesn’t always take the easy literary path; he doesn’t invariably triumph against all odds, and not all of his choices are good. The villain of the piece has another side that we only glimpse, but know is there.
While the depth of characterization is a surprising precursor to the more simplistic templates Farmer later relied on, the seeds of that more facile approach are here as well. I never really found myself believing in the society he created, nor in the alien biology he posits. For one thing, there’s no clear focus to the book; it feels very much like he’s making it up as he goes along. Sometimes that works. Here it doesn’t.
For all the story’s flaws, there are the bones of interesting ideas, and I can see why it attracted attention. At the same time, the story feels unnecessarily stretched out, and the weak spots are hard to ignore. This should probably have stayed at short story length. Still, I wish he’d taken the complexity and interesting choices that are here, and written more like that, rather than what seems to have been a determined tack toward pulp.
16 July 2018 Science fiction | Philip Jose Farmer |