Category: Pip & Flinx

“Running From the Deity” by Alan Dean Foster Review

Running From the Deity

Running From the Deity

Author:  Alan Dean Foster

Released:  2005

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.



“Flinx’s Folly” by Alan Dean Foster review

Flinx's Folly

Flinx’s Folly

Author:  Alan Dean Foster

Released:  2002

Unfortunately for Pip & Flinx fans, Alan Dean Foster has fallen into a bad habit of placing the protagonist (and his pet mini-drag) into seemingly deadly situations only to have him rescued by characters that were otherwise absent from the plot of the current story. Following multiple rescues in that manner in Mid-Flinx, and similar instances in Reunion , I was not shocked to see that the same development was utilized in Flinx’s Folly but I was disappointed. That sense of cheating employed by the writer really put a sour finish on what was otherwise a pretty fun adventure.

Rather than visit an alien barren landscape, here Pip & Flinx visit paradise, or the closest planet in the Commonwealth to such a thing. Located in that perfectly habitable distance from the sun and with a favorable tilt resulting in tropical seasons, the setting is as much a vacation for our protagonists as any book in the series. This makes sense as Flinx’s motivation for travel is to visit his most memorable love interest, Clarity Held, the beautiful, intelligent gengineer (genetic engineer) who could write her own ticket for love or career.

The start of Flinx’s Folly has an interesting occurrence where Flinx’s ability causes a mass blackout at a shopping mall, however the plot from there takes on fairly standard adventure tropes. Flinx must flee from a hospital (executed cleverly). Flinx must flee from death worshipping fanaticals (executed less cleverly). The main conflict doesn’t arrive until he locates Clarity (looking for the one person in the Cosmos he feels comfortable opening up to) and her sort of fiancé (whose name I can’t recall, so I’ll just call him Bond Villain).

The most ridiculous and entertaining aspects of Flinx’s Folly all involve Bond Villain’s plans to thwart this interloper from chatting with his lady. He takes the usual steps that us guys need to take to make sure our ladies aren’t being romanced by tall and mysterious foreigners: hiring private investigators and thugs to get dirt or break kneecaps. If that doesn’t work **spoiler alert** sometimes you need to build completely functional android decoys of your fiancé, knife wielding spider robots or set elaborate traps involving gene therapy, but all’s fair in love and sci-fi.

The deus ex machina ending featured two of the best recurring characters from this series, but it’s such a shame that they had to show up in such a plot convenient manner. Taking the Bond analogy further, the final ending of the book left an option for an expanded cast of characters continuing on adventures, but Foster prefers to take our hero to the next installment with no strings attached. (As F. Paul Wilson writes, “a spear has no branches.”) The sect of death worshippers make convenient bad guys that our heroes can kill without remorse, but I don’t find them particularly believable or interesting which puts them in line with the series main antagonist, a massive entity of nothingness accelerating toward our galaxy. Not one of the better entries in the series so far but there were certainly enough ridiculous and fun scenes to make it memorable.


“Reunion” by Alan Dean Foster Review



A Pip & Flinx Adventure #7 Chronologically

Author:  Alan Dean Foster

Released:   2001

Reunion is the 7th book chronologically in the Pip & Flinx series. This installment finds Flinx continuing to follow every lead he can to learn more information about his biological parents. An espionage mission into a library on Earth leads to an excursion into the AAnn Empire. Foster’s worlds are always inventive, but this particular planet is by design a bit less interesting than the prior few worlds Flinx has visited. Pyrassis is primarily a rock planet, with plenty of rocks and minerals and (seemingly) nothing interesting enough to draw the attention of sentient beings. The native life forms on this planet provide a few interesting encounters, as the camouflage capabilities are unique in how deadly they function.

More than any other book in the series, Reunion requires a reader to have read the earlier books in the series to fully enjoy it, but the constant callbacks to earlier events makes the momentum of the story suffer as a result. In all the infinite cosmos, Flinx seems to be getting drawn into some pretty convenient dramas that no other human has ever discovered. In particular, the earlier books The Tar-Aiym Krang and Orphan Star are revisited to bring in unique plot devices and characters, but they’re not the interesting parts of those books (such as the Ulru-Ujurrians or Truzenzuzex). Just writing those last two sentences is probably enough to scare non-science fiction fans away from this series, but when Foster is firing on all cylinders he has created some of the best adventure stories and original settings in the genre.

Unfortunately Reunion misses the mark more often than not. Besides the interesting alien life forms that form an interesting survival story in the middle third of the book, the rest of the action never feels like anything even kind of threatening to our hero. In addition, Flinx develops a few abilities that are beginning to make him more superman than every-man. In this installment, Flinx computers expert computer hacker, capable of breaking into space stations and develops mental abilities capable of shutting down any threat to his safety. The reveal of the other person pursuing Flinx’s parental records also didn’t totally work for me as the added connection to Flinx’s past felt cliched and unnecessary. The very ending of the book also uses a deux ex machina, however the reveal of what allowed it to take place made me chuckle.


“Mid-Flinx” by Alan Dean Foster Review


Author: Alan Dean Foster

Release Date: 1995


Midworld is one of my favorite Alan Dean Foster books, so I was very much looking forward to Pip and Flinx visiting the planet described in that book. For those not familiar, this unnamed planet features the most complex ecosystem in the Humanx Commonwealth. The planet is covered in various trees and planets that are 400+ meters tall with entire different miniature ecosystems above the trees and throughout depending on how high or low you go. In addition to that there are hybrid plant/animal creatures and the most deadly camouflaged organisms imaginable. What a perfect setting to drop our empathic young hero and his deadly mini-dragon.

For the alien world setting, this book absolutely delivered. It also managed to advance the plot of the overall series down that path I was worried about in the previous book without getting too ridiculous. The problems with this book all stem from the reason for visiting and internal story of Mid-Flinx. Flinx find himself in a plot straight out of Jack Reacher. He is passing through town when a dastardly villain obsesses on him for no good reason and the result is a game of cat and mouse that ends in death. Here the villain is fixated on taking Pip into his own private zoo and pursues Flinx all the way to Midworld to take it. Normally Flinx would have a handy sixth sense to keep villains from creeping up on him but in this book it is conveniently available only to allow for maximum dramatic effect.

The book takes a second ridiculous turn as serendipity and surprises coincide with the arrival of two additional alien races in pursuit of Flinx. Here Foster prefers setting up impossible situations for Flinx that end in escape by the perfectly timed rescued of off page characters. The first instance of this involves a sniper shot, but was explained in a satisfactory though not all that convincing manner. The second instance with falling mushrooms explanation does not hold up to scrutiny as the location was selected by the bad guys and not the heroes. The final save (the Thranx) made sense but also served to show how ridiculous the string or Flinx’s pursuers was.

In a darker series this string of events could have culminated in some very exciting or devastating consequences, but much of the tension is removed by Flinx’s guides being a woman and two children. The lack of real stakes, frequent coincidences and one note villains keep this from being one of the better entries in the series, despite the awesome setting for a science fiction book.


“Flinx in Flux” (Pip & Flinx #6) by Alan Dean Foster Review


Flinx in Flux

Author: Alan Dean Foster

Release Date: 1988

“Flinx in Flux” was my favorite entry in the series until the last 1/8 of the book when it kind of ran off the rails towards some fairly standard science fiction cliches which look to have major implications on the overall story arc going forward. What started off simply enough, about Flinx and his mini-dragons Pip and Scrap finding an unconscious, badly beaten girl on one of his intergalactic travels, resulted in taking a trip to a classic Alan Dean Foster created alien world, with unique ecosystem and intelligent life unlike any I’d ever imagined. The simple story, Flinx falling for Clarity, and Clarity learning more about Flinx was engrossing and the villains (ecoterrorists) had a simple motivation that made sense for them but made them seem real enough.

As Flinx and Clarity encountered the planet of underground tunnels and absolute darkness, I was enjoying every moment of this story. The underground fauna was described in vivid detail that reminded me of something out of Alien or Pitch Black. The attempt of characters to navigate the underground tunnels was the type of adventure that Foster does as well as anybody since early Heinlein. Up until that plot was resolved I had zero complaints about this book.

The evil corporate entity and other shadows that emerge from the woodwork in the final act felt like evil characters straight out of a C-rate pulp novel. The big payoff is a new quest for Flinx that seems much bigger (and less interesting) than the general exploring he’s been doing from book to book thus far. At this point I hope Clarity and Scrap join the cast of recurring characters and keep the story grounded in the more relationship driven storylines.


“The End of the Matter” (Pip & Flinx #4) by Alan Dean Foster Review


The End of the Matter

Author: Alan Dean Foster

Release Date: 1977

“The End of the Matter” was the best installment so far in the Pip and Flinx series for several reasons. I’ve always thought Foster’s greatest strength as a writer is in creating alien races and cultures that are unique while maintaining an adventurous tone throughout that makes for a fun read. This novel features several of those cultures, as Flinx first visits the home world of his mini-dragon Pip, where the technology and ecosystem are very different from his own home world. There, he meets the two best characters to appear in an earlier novel of this series, the humanx adventurers from the Tar-Aiym Krang, and pursue a possible ancient weapon capable of saving several planets on the verge of destruction.

This being the fourth book written by Foster in the series, it’s clear he has a solid grasp on the mystery of Flinx’s parentage and the characters that will recur throughout. Mother Mastiff’s reduced role in the story probably for the best for that character, while Bran Tse-Mallory and Truzensuzex could become regulars for the rest of the series and I would enjoy it. Foster’s craziest creation in this novel is the alien Abalamahalamatandra (aka Ab), who I pictured as a lumbering, striped cross between a hippo and an ant eater, but with more eyes and appendages was also fun to try to puzzle out. I listened to this book as an audiobook, and the narrator used a singing, jingly way of delivering all of Ab’s rhymes that really felt in the spirit of Foster’s writing. The other character that is introduced is potential father figure Skua September, who provides more answers for Flinx’s past than the first three books combined, while still leaving plenty of questions unanswered for future books.

Although this was my favorite book through the first four in the series, there were a few points where my enjoyment was tested. The villains in this book seemed almost evil for evil sake, and definitely not as interesting as those found in “Orphan Star.” The science in this book was heavier than Foster typically writes with, specifically regarding the ultimate weapon belonging to an ancient alien race. That on its own is fine, but the high stakes of pulsars, black holes and super condensed collapsed star materials are higher stakes than really fit in a Pip and Flinx novel. These characters are at their best when they are solving issues on a planet’s surface with various characters and alien races. Trying to fight, say, a blackhole goes more to space adventurer and nothing we know of Flinx indicates he should be the one solving those issues.


“Orphan Star” (Pip & Flinx #3) by Alan Dean Foster Review


Orphan Star

Author: Alan Dean Foster

Release Date: 1977

** spoiler alert ** The main plot of the third book in the Pip and Flinx series is pretty standard for the first half, as Flinx attempts to learn about his parents and narrowly escaped a few deadly situations through the help of his dragon Pip. As soon as the book shifts to a new planet quarantined under church edict the story switches to classic Alan Dean Foster alien story time.

The book ties in nicely to the events of The Tar-Aiym Krang, while also setting up future novels through the introduction of a major villain and a resourceful girl with abilities similar to Flinx. The ethical questions posed by teaching a sentient alien race about civilization (and more to the point, war) kept me enthralled for the entire last third of the book.