Having completed the entire run of Pip and Flinx novels by Alan Dean Foster, I'm exploring the other books he set in his most famous creation, the Humanx Commonwealth. I've already reviewed a couple of them, “Midworld” and “Cachalot”, which coincidentally were also the first two standalone novels he wrote. He did write a couple of others earlier, “Icerigger” and “Mission to Moulokin”, but they constitute two-thirds of a trilogy and I'm not ready for that yet. Here is what I am ready for, the earliest possible story about first contact.
It's a good one, all the more so because it explores how expected norms are only expected because of aberrant actions by those not deemed entirely sane at the time. And that leads us to Ryozenzuzex, because this particular story of first contact isn't about Man meeting Thranx but vice versa.
And that brings us to Ryozenzuzex, the protagonist and hero of this book, a capable but unusual Thranx, and we meet him before he's even born. It seems that Thranx learn much of what they learn while still in larva stage and Ryo is a voracious learner. Thranx are also hatched knowing exactly what they'll do with their lives, a surety that eludes him, even though he shines in his chosen field of agriculture. Also, Thranx are almost always hatched in pairs but Ryo comes from an odd numbered hatching, something else to set him apart from the outset.
He lives out in the countryside on the planet of Willow-Wane, a misfit doing what he can to fit into rural society, but adventure comes knocking in the form of an AAnn raiding party, which he successfully manages to deter. The real trigger to his story, though, arrives through a strange message. Ryo's pre-mate is Falmiensazex and she's maintained a steady correspondence with a clan cousin Brohwelporvot. He's the captain of the Thranx ship which boards a disabled vessel and encounters a strange race of beings which wear their skeletons on the inside.
Now Ryo understands his purpose in life, even though those around him feel that he's insane. He takes what money he has and flies to his planet's main city, where his journey would end if not for a fortuitous meeting with Eint Wuuzelansem, a renowned poet, who takes Ryo's attempted mugging in the best of spirits, hearing his story, financing his quest and travelling along for the adventure of it all.
It's a long and perilous trip, taking them not just to the Thranx homeworld, Hivehom, but to a sort of Ultima Thule, a military base situated at the far north of the planet in the frozen wastes that are anathema to Thranx. Here, once again, fortune favours the brave and he encounters a pair of humans as they flee from confinement. They kidnap him and escape into the snow, where the magic of first contact really begins.
As we know from the Pip & Flinx series, the primary reason why the Humanx Commonwealth works so well is that humans and Thranx complement each other at a deep level. Being around Thranx brings out the best in humans and vice versa, though this obviously takes some time to develop. It all begins here with Loo and Bonnie struggling to survive outside on an alien planet with no knowledge or understanding of their captor race except for one hostage, Ryo.
These scenes are fantastic because, as we know, our two races are not merely different but horrific to each other. Ryo, the most open minded Thranx here, sees possibility but has to conquer his fear of fleshy pulpy monsters. The humans, of course, are afraid of giant insects as race memory. For two such races to find common ground is magical stuff.
Of course, this fundamentally confirms the purpose Ryo searched so long for, but the story moves a lot further than this and a set of parallels emerge to hint at what we know will come but which seems an unreachable goal to the other men and Thranx in this novel. Let's just state that Ryo is not the only character here to go out on a limb.
Alan Dean Foster wrote an entire trilogy exploring the birth of the Humanx Commonwealth and I'll start in on that next month with its opening volume, Phylogenesis. Everything that the Commonwealth stands for is here, though, in nascent form, in the relationship that grows between Loo, Bonnie and Ryo, among others. These humans change because of Ryo's beliefs and actions and they make decisions they might otherwise have never made because of them. I see that relationship as the beginning of that mutual symbiosis.
I should mention that we're not the first race that the Thranx encountered as they expanded into space. The warlike AAnn are enemies to the Thranx, as they already are to humans, but there's mention here of a couple of other "semi-intelligent nonspace-going races", the Astvet and the Mu'atahl. They haven't cropped up yet, I believe, in anything else that I've read, but I'm only eighteen books into thirty-two, thus far. There's time yet.
I'm not quite sure about the ending of this book, but it does make a kind of sense and may well be the real beginning of Thranx logic changing how humans think and act. I loved everything that came before it. Ryo, with the highly recognisable rest of his name (which means Ryo of Family Zen, clan Zu, Hive Zex), is a fantastic character worthy of the descendants we'll meet in later books, like Truzenzuzex and Sylzenzuzex. Humans get much less to do but this is very much told from his perspective, which because he's a fundamentally good Thranx, willing to put his own life on the line to do what's right, has a real feelgood factor to it.
I'm looking forward to seeing how his work here develops into what we know as the Humanx Commonwealth in the Founding trilogy. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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