Planet Story by Harry Harrison and illustrated by Jim Burns (book review).

Having read Harry Harrison’s autobiography recently, I said I would look at ‘Planet Story’ that he wrote to provide a medium to allow upcoming artist, at the time, Jim Burns to hang some art from. The amount of art out-distances the amount of text but in this size book, that was always likely to happen.

Harrison’s tongue-in-cheek style of writing is an odd match, with only a hint of the sexuality expressed showing up Burns’ art. It is a future where the military are crossing the stars, needing particular materials and taking them from various planets. There is also a war going on, so things have to be done quickly and people are stretched to cover everything so technology rules.

We are introduced to Private Parrts, who gives off a pheromone that everyone loves him from human to animal and he is forever pushing them away, not very good for a military life. However, he is offered the opportunity to work for Colonel Kylling on the planet Strabismus than spending more time in the brig. Kylling has a preference for torture and most immune to Parrts, which suits him fine. That is, until Admiral Soddy wants a railway set up there to ship a precious fuel from the arctic to the equator. Inadvertently and because it isn’t noticed, the track goes through the local inhabitants cities and because that is against even their laws, Parrts is sent with translator Lieutenant Styreen Fome to come to a compromise with the Gornishthilfen or is it the Slimeys.

I can see why Harrison said ‘Planet Story’ wasn’t one of his better efforts. The latter third of the story feels rushed and jumps across events leaving me wondering, when did that happen? None of which is helped when things like Parrts’ pheromone attraction is ignored and the splendid Kylling ignored for Soddy, who is lukewarm in comparison.

Whether it is the age of the book or the printing process from 1979, which in some cases was a little lacklustre in other books from the same time period, that Jim Burns’ colours aren’t always as bright as they look. That doesn’t mean its true all the way through. Burns’ more green orientated painting work better than those with blue orientated tones. One of the paintings was reproduced in one of Burns’ later books and it had a better lustre so have to presume it’s the earlier printing process that doesn’t do justice. There are a couple instances where paintings are printed twice at full scale and enlarged detail, but I have a feeling that this was the only way for the book to be completed on time for printing. Even so, it does give an opportunity to see Burns’ work close up and, even then, his attention to detail.

I suspect the Jim Burns fans out there who don’t have a copy of this book will pick up the remaining copies to complete their collections. In some respects, ‘Planet Story’ is more of a dated sexist violence with a hint of love story curio of a by-gone age now, but you could get away with a lot more when the PC force wasn’t so intent on equality for all.

GF Willmetts

April 2015

(pub: Pierrot Publishing, 1979. 215 page illustrated odd-shaped softcover. Price: this varies but I got my copy for about £2.50 (UK). ISBN: 0-905310-6)


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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