East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Just like when I was in high school – a long reading weekend


Back when I was in high-school I spent a lot of time reading, and the summer was a particularly intense time. Indeed, I started reading in English because books in English lasted longer, and I had been reading through all of the readily available fantasy and science fiction on the bookstore shelves.

My teenage summers were filled with stories by Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, Gordon R. Dickson, C.J. Cherryh, Tanith Lee and Anne McCaffrey – to name just a few, that I still read and enjoy today.
Then, this morning, I chanced upon a conversation on Facebook about the literary merits of Alan Dean Foster – another staple of my young diet as a reader. These days Foster is known in my country mostly because of his novelizations, but back in the days his Pip & Flinx stories and his Humanx Commonwealth novels were very popular. Then things changed, and today the only books by Foster that get translated are his movie tie-ins.
This got me thinking.

As I have mentioned in the past, I have a few caches of unread paperback books – stuff I bought at a discount or in bulk, often second hand, and have stashed away for the hard times to come. So I went and opened one of the boxes and indeed there they were, a nice stack of Alan Dean Foster books – a couple I read in Italian like, in 1981, and a few I never got around to reading back then.
And because I have decided to spend a few days being lazy and reading, and because the book about mass extinctions I was reading was almost done, I went and picked a few books from the box.

The one I’m currently reading is Alan Dean Foster’s first novel – from 1972 – and it’s called The Tar-Aiym Krang. It’s the book that in a single stroke kickstarted both the Pip & Flinx series and the Humanx Commonwealth universe, and the author’s career, and it shows how much of an accomplished storyteller newcomer Alan Dean Foster was at the age of 26.

The Pip & Flinx adventures are straightforward, old-style space opera, featuring a galaxy filled with alien races and ancient civilizations. Flinx describes himself as an “ethical thief” (he steals only from the bad guys) and his stories are perfect caper stories for a young audience. Indeed I just discovered this is now presented by DelRey Books as “young adult” literature.

What is interesting is how enjoyable the story is also from an adult’s perspective. The story fits in less than 300 pages (because that’s how it was in ancient times), and proceeds at a good clip (roughly 40 pages per hour this afternoon), and I was amazed at how much detail and worldbuilding Alan Dean Foster packs just in the first chapter, at the same time introducing the main characters, giving us no less than three engaging scenes, and priming the action to come.
This is highly entertaining and, for me, highly instructive.

And it’s good to be back to some simple but not simplistic space opera.
This is a perfect book for my vacations.
Only peeve – the new DelRey covers suck pretty bad, that’s why I’ve used the old ones for this post.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Just like when I was in high school – a long reading weekend

  1. THE MAN WHO USED THE UNIVERSE helped me to be a better person. I keep meaning to write Foster a thank you note for that.

    Liked by 1 person

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