Well, it's about frickin' time! 'Flinx Transcendent' is the fourteenth book in Alan Dean Foster's Pip & Flinx series and, for a long while, it was the last, the author having finally decided to wrap up everything he'd set into motion over the last many books. It took eight years for 'Strange Music' to come along and, frankly, now that I've read the whole series, it shouldn't have done because it's a notably lesser book than this one.
By 'everything he'd set into motion' I'm referring especially to the story arc that involves the Great Evil, an immense sentient force that's floating towards our galaxy and eating everything in its way, leaving nothing but a great emptiness behind it. Unchallenged, it'll eat our galaxy, albeit in a number of generations time, but Flinx knows about it and some of his oldest and most trusted friends have effectively told him that he's the only chance that civilisation has to survive.
While the Pip & Flinx books go back to Foster's debut, 'The Tar-Aiym Krang' in 1972, and part of this novel involves a return to both the planet and the machine of that one, the Great Evil story arc really started finding a focus in 'Mid-Flinx', the sixth book in the series, published in 1995.
That book began a trend to be followed annoyingly closely for over a decade, in which Flinx, for whatever reason, vanishes off to another new planet to achieve a goal that only he cares about, all while increasingly ignoring the massively important task to which he's been set, namely to roam the galaxy to track down the mobile Tar-Aiym weapons platform that might be the one and only way to defeat the Great Evil.
I found this wait frustrating and I've been reading these books at the rate of one per month. I can't imagine how frustrating it must have been for Pip & Flinx fans to wait over a decade for Foster to finally get round to doing what he seemed to suggest would happen with every book in turn. There was no doubt this time though and, frankly, I enjoyed this wrap-up novel more than any in the series, even if it does so much that it had to bring in a number of plot conveniences to make it all possible.
What's really odd is that Foster starts out the book like it's going to be another distraction, having Flinx infiltrate the AAnn homeworld, Blasusarr, in an artificial AAnn suit, using the knowledge of that species' language and customs that he acquired in the AAnn artist colony on Jast that adopted him in 'Sliding Scales'. Eventually, of course, he's rumbled, and his slow escape from inevitable death is wonderfully, if dangerously, handled.
From there, he starts to reconnect with a string of characters we knew had to be brought back into the story, so that they can move forward together. Some of these are handled well, some rather conveniently. Once he's got the band back together, the actual search for a way to destroy the Great Evil begins properly and continues unabated until the job is done, because you simply cannot have expected any other outcome to this series, especially as there's a book fifteen for Pip & Flinx.
What I both appreciated here and rolled my eyes at is that there are dead ends here that we have no reason to expect.
I appreciated this because, as Foster ends his series by wrapping up a slew of loose ends, many of which had only one clear outcome, he still manages to keep us on our toes and bring in some surprises. I'll certainly never look at an asteroid field quite the same way ever again and I applaud the sheer scale the author found himself working at here.
What I rolled my eyes at was mostly the way in which we've been given a set of givens that we can wonder around, but Foster also pulled the rug out from under us on a few occasions here by changing those givens. Of course, we're going to use X to do Y, because that's what we've been told for half a dozen books, but hey, it doesn't work so now we have to look at Z. Aargh!
I should point out that this isn't a flaw of 'Flinx Transcendent' as much as it is Foster's lack of ability to keep a series on point. In his favour, it had already taken him almost four decades to get this far and his goals had clearly changed a number of times during that period. I should praise Foster for being able to shoehorn things he created in 1972 into this story that he wrote in 2009 without them seeming inappropriate or out of place.
The end result is joyous. Certainly some of it is a big sigh of relief that Foster finally got there and wrote this finalé. Can you imagine if he'd died in 2007 after 'Patrimony' and fans who had been reading this series for what could be their entire lives were left without an ending? Fortunately he was able to wrap it up and is happily still with us today.
Much of it, though, comes from the fact that 'Flinx Transcendent' isn't just an ending, it's a novel of its own with a number of stories of its own and it's written with a confidence that makes it joyous. Much of what worked in this series worked on a planetary level, with Flinx interacting with aliens on one planet, both sentient and not, with Foster's imagination running wild on both counts. The aliens changed and the planets changed but the wealth of imagination never quit. Here, Foster got to expand that imagination to a far greater scale and he proved to be emphatically up to the task.
In other words, while 'Flinx Transcendent' is a great ending to the series, it's also a highly enjoyable novel in its own right. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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