Tuesday, August 09, 2022

39. Deathworld by Harry Harrison

I was a big fan of Harry Harrison when I was a teenager.  I don't remember much about his books but that they were always kind of fun.  I hung out with my old friend from that time recently and we went through his excellent sci-fi collection, where we re-discovered this lovely hardback edition of all 3 Deathworld novels (with a cool Corben cover), which he lent me.  I tore through the first one, partly because it is such a quick and fun read and also partly because of some jetlag-induced insomnia.

I have to applaud again the now mostly outdated practice of the shorter fantasy or sci-fi book.  I do enjoy the depth of detail and absorption of a thousand-page per book trilogy but authors like Harry Harrison show that you can deliver epic scope and cool characters in 150 pages.  The hero is Jason dinAlt, an itinerant gambler/cheater whom we learn has a psionic ability to read and manipulate objects of chance.  Kerk, the ambassador from the planet Pyrrus hires him to turn a 17 million credit front into 3 billion dollars.  Jason succeeds and he and Kirk barely escape the casino security.  Jason learns that Kirk has a deal to use the money to buy a ton of armaments to take back to his planet, which is so deadly that the small group of colonists who live there spend all their lives just fighting it to survive.  Jason, intrigued, convinces Kerk to let him come and visit.  In order to survive, he is forced to join the training program with the six year-olds.  

At first, it seems like most of the book will just be about exploring this super deadly planet, but we quickly get into a greater plot, where Jason suspects there is more going on than just a hyper-dangerous environment.  His investigation leads to some pretty big ideas about man vs. the environment and conflicting types of society.  It goes quickly and therefore seems a bit too easy and simplistic, but we appreciate this is a function of the speed of the book.  It also ends nicely with an option for greater adventure (which I will explore in Deathworld 2).  Good stuff. I am glad to be rediscovering Harry Harrison.

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