~by Alan Dean Foster
I've been meaning to read one of Alan Dean Foster's Pip and Flinx novels for...I'm not really sure how long. Often included in the Science Fiction Book Club mailings, the names and covers would often catch my eye (I mean, who doesn't love a mini dragon-like creature?), but I've never got around to reading one until now. Published in 1972, The Tar-Aiym Krang is the first book to have been written in the series, and is Foster's first novel. Chronologically, it is also the first book except for the prequel For Love of Mother-Not which was published more than ten years later. I figured I might as well start where it all began and grabbed one of the several copies of The Tar-Aiym Krang off of the library shelves.
Philip Lynx, better known as Flinx, is an orphan growing up on the planet Moth. He's actually managed to do pretty well for himself--of course, being somewhat psychic is an uncommon but useful talent to have. And keeping Pip, a poisonous minidrag, as a pet guarantees that most people will pretty much leave you along if you want them to. But that doesn't mean it's always easy to stay out of trouble, and Flinx has found himself caught up in a deadly race to find a mysterious relic of the militant Tar-Aiym. Funded by the wealthy and powerful merchant Maxim Malaika and accompanied by his contingent of pilots, Atha Moon and Wolf, and his consort Sissiph in addition to the foremost authorities on the Tar-Aiym, Bran-Tse Mallory and Truzenzuzex, Flinx will get more of an adventure than he bargained for.
I was generally annoyed by several things in The Tar-Aiym Krang. Something that particularly struck me was the utter lack of a decent female character. There were plenty of women in the book, but none of them were given a real positive portrayal overall. I also dreaded any time Malaika spoke since he was constantly dropping foreign words (Swahili?) into his speech in such a way that was more irritating than adding depth to the character. It seemed more like a shortcut to needlessly exoticise him more than anything else. Less annoying but still vaguely problematic was that Flinx's powers were never very well defined but seemed to change or be added to as the story progressed or the plot required. I still really like Pip, though
I really was not impressed by The Tar-Aiym Krang at all. There were some very interesting ideas and concepts, unfortunately more as background information than anything else, but even that wasn't enough to save the book for me. Part of the problem was how it was all introduced, usually by info-dumps in the form of dialogue between characters who already knew all the information and really shouldn't have been discussing it except for the benefit of the reader. In addition, the beginning chapters were particularly awkward in style although that settled out pretty well by the end. There's not much plot to speak of, granted it is a shorter book, and what I'm assuming was to be the exciting twist in the story came as no surprise whatsoever. Ultimately, I think The Tar-Aiym Krang would have worked better edited down significantly and then used as an opening sequence in a larger work; it doesn't really do so well standing on its own. Even though some great elements were introduced to the story and world by the end of the book, I probably won't be making time for the rest of the series.