01/11/2008. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 285 page hardback. Price: $25.00 (US), $28.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-48507-6.
check out websites: www.delreybooks.com and www.alandeanfoster.com
I haven't read an Alan Dean Foster book for years. I don't know why. I enjoyed some of the early 'Commonwealth' novels, they were always exciting and entertaining. You know the problem when you return to something from your youth: it's just not the same.
Quofum is a world that mysteriously disappears from space occasionally and a small group of scientists are sent to explore it. I think the reason that I didn't find it very exciting or entertaining is that Foster seems to have gone along with the common misconception that scientists are a breed of dedicated, disciplined people with their emotions in check. I've worked with scientists for years and even lay some small claim to being one and they're just ordinary people who happen to work in the scientific field. The way the xenologists in 'Quofum' are written means that every time something potentially exciting happens, Foster cites their emotional detachment and discipline and diminishes their reactions. This effectively drains the book of most of its emotional impact.
There is a lot to be excited about as Quofum turns out to be a planet of unparalleled bio-diversity. This point is made again and again by every character and at every opportunity until I almost leapt out of my chair screaming, 'I know about the amazingly diverse Quofumian life forms! Aaaaaaagh!' So much for my scientific discipline. On the positive side, there are some fascinating creatures and races that display Foster's marvellous imagination.
The blurb to the book makes the point that this novel provides vital background information to the final 'Pip And Flinx' book due out next year. Sadly, in the end, the book did just feel like background material. I never really connected with any of the characters and the reason they get stranded on the planet is just illogical. A ridiculous plot device is employed with the sole purpose of stranding them for reasons that we'll presumably find out next year.
I guess fans of Foster's 'Commonwealth' series will want to read this for completeness, but if you just want to try one of his novels to get a flavour of his work then you'd do best looking elsewhere.
Gareth D. Jones
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