Strange Music (A Pip And Flinx Adventure – book 15) by Alan Dean Foster (book review)

A few years back I read the last three books in Alan Dean Foster’s long-running ‘Pip And Flinx’ series, a light-hearted, adventurous series about the empathic Flinx and his pet mini-dragon, Pip. The air of tediousness that enveloped me as I read through them returned to mind when I received this new book which brings the series back to life. ‘Strange Music’ is set a year or more after the conclusion of ‘Flinx Transcendent’ when, after years of adventuring around the Commonwealth, Flinx has settled down to a life of bliss with his new wife Clarity and quickly grew bored. Thus he jumps at the chance to travel off-world again at the behest of his old acquaintance, Sylzenzuzax, and launches into a new adventure on the flimsiest of pretexts just as he did in the previous three books. Once more, he leaves Clarity behind where she can be safely out of the way as she was in the other three books and allow him to get on with adventuring whilst occasionally pining for her.

Largess is a low-tech planet with a Commonwealth outpost whose seal-like inhabitants sing instead of speak and where advanced tech is proscribed. Somebody has been contravening this ban and supplying illegal weapons to the locals and fomenting trouble, so Flinx is sent to investigate. The fact that he’s looking for a human among Larian seal-people means that any undercover human investigator could do the job just as well, so there’s really no need to call in an empath and, as nobody knows how Flinx’s empathic talent works, there’s no reason to suppose it will be effective on the Larians.

Flinx learns Larian songspeech in order to communicate with the locals because they ignore any attempt to just speak their language. Songspeech is like Yoda-speak, but more drawn-out and tedious. Every sentence takes three times longer to say and makes all conversations dull and overly-long. This mode of communication probably doubled the length of the book.

As with previous books, Alan Dean Foster does an interesting and entertaining job of developing a new world, culture and wildlife. He has an annoying habit of slipping out of Flinx’s point of view though to describe details of various creatures’ habits and anatomy that Flinx would not know. Quite often these facts are supplied in great detail in the midst of a dramatic scene when vicious creatures are attacking them, so that the tension is completely lost to make way for a biology lesson. This even happens in the dark when Flinx could not even see the anatomical particulars described. Similar off-putting shifts in perspective are also indulged in during conversations or even tense stand-offs when we’re given a quick round-robin tour of everyone’s current thoughts, while the whole tableau seems frozen in time to allow us this indulgence. Several times, Flinx has the opportunity for lengthy conversations with his trusty local guide while their adversary patiently waits to continue whatever fiendish attack he was in the midst of.

Most of the book is spent with Flinx making his way slowly through the countryside looking for the illicit trader and a local ruler’s kidnapped daughter. Despite his much-vaunted singular talent and wide experience of travelling and adventure, he comes across as irritatingly naïve. We’re reminded numerous times of his experience and his singular talent, with the word ‘singular’ being used so many times to describe various singular things that it became singularly annoying. Flinx also spends much time second-guessing himself, debating whether to give up and go home, missing Clarity, blah-de-blah-de-blah, we’ve heard it all before; he spent most of the last three books agonising repeatedly about the same things. What if his singular talent doesn’t work? What if he can’t solve the problem? What if Pip doesn’t pop out to save him again? What if yet another deus ex machine doesn’t save the day as it always seems to? What if he actually has to get out the situation himself?

So, anyway, if you’re a fan of Pip and Flinx: reSo, anyway, if you’re a fan of Pip and Flinx: rejoice! They’re back! Otherwise: meh!

Gareth D. Jones

November 2017

(pub: Del Rey/Random House. 269page hardback. Price: $27.00 (US), $36.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-101-96760-7)

check out websites: www.randomhousebooks.com and www.alandeanfoster.com

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