Running From the Deity
Author: Alan Dean Foster
Running From the Deity by Alan Dean Foster is the tenth book chronologically in the Pip & Flinx series and continues the tradition of dropping Flinx off on an alien world and everything going to hell. Much like Jack Reacher, no matter where Flinx lands trouble follows. Here, Flinx’s spacecraft The Teacher is taxed from the events from the previous few books and must land on a planet with sufficient raw materials to commence repairs. The best option available is the planet Arrawd, home to a “primitive” society of multi-limbed sentient pixie lifeforms called the Dwarra. The only problem? The Dwarra are not advanced enough to interact with spacefaring races (they are currently at the dawn of the steam age), and there is a Commonwealth edict banning interaction with the Dwarra under effect. Flinx, who grew up a thief and possesses the only interstellar spacecraft capable of landing on a planet’s surface in the known universe, decides to risk it.
Once Flinx has landed on the surface, the plot starts to require a few leaps that seem out of character for our protagonist. For starters, Flinx leaves the ship to do some exploring and is sidetracked by a twisted ankle. I understand that the gravity on Arrawd is lower than other planets, and that requires some additional care, but this is the same protagonist who survived unscathed Midworld, where every life form was capable of killing him, as well as the camouflage predator planet of Pyrassis from Reunion. Much like the Gunslinger from Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three, it’s obvious that Foster needed an excuse to have Flinx dependent on others in order to facilitate a story about intertwining himself with this alien race. Unfortunately, the excuse he settled on didn’t feel true to the character.
The Dwarra have a few interesting aspects that make them particularly appealing to Flinx. For starters they are emotionally empathic. Unlike Flinx, this is not a constantly working ability with a wide radius, but instead is dependent on antenna touching amongst themselves. Flinx can still read these aliens emotions, but unlike all other sentient beings he has met, he can also tune them out resulting in a peaceful mental experience. Flinx ends up in a position where he heals an animal with his advanced medical technology, and the two Dwarrans who are sheltering him begin to realize the possibility of profiting from utilizing their new friends good nature/scientific resources. As word of Flinx’s miraculous abilities to heal spreads, other Dwarrans begin to worship Flinx, and others still connive to take advantage of the “deity,” or decide to attack him based on the political climate of the area.
As a standalone story in the series, this was pretty memorable. Flinx’s dilemma is how much should he help these individuals while he’s stuck there for a few weeks? He is able to heal all sorts of ailments, and since he’s not able to leave anyways what is the downside of fixing some people up? The answer of course if the effect his presence has on the behavior of the rest of the population of Arrawd. The switch in perspectives to the various High Borns (basically governors) of the tribes displayed the sort of thinking that you’d find in Napoleonic Europe or the Cold War. As the potential for war breaks out, Flinx must again improvise to save his own skin as well as avert disaster on a planetary scale.
My favorite character in the story was the netcaster (fisherman) who discovered Flinx. A simple, but good hearted man, his wife’s overbearing nature and poor decision making is the catalyst for the entire enterprise going horribly wrong, and who among us can’t related to that? The only thing in this book that ties into the larger mythology of the devastating force approaching the galaxy is a final chapter tacked onto the end catching us up with Flinx’s supporting cast. These stories are always at their best when they focus on smaller events with unique settings and this book did a nice job on both counts.