Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: Deathworld

© 1960 by Harry Harrison

Imagine a world with double the gravitational pull of Earth. Tilted crazily upon its axis like Uranus, unpredictable seasons and days wreak proverbial havoc upon the landscape. Storms, cyclones, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can kill you, and if they don’t, the hundred degree daily swing in temperature can make you mighty uncomfortable. And just about every living thing, from the single-celled microbe to flying beasties of all shapes and sizes to burrowing plants with gaping maws, everything is out to bury you.

Welcome to Pyrrus, known to our hero, Jason dinAlt, as “Deathworld.”

In one of the fastest opening chapters I’ve read in a long time, Jason is given an offer he can’t refuse by Kerk, dictator-of-sorts ruling over the dwindling human population of Pyrrus. A high stakes gambler who has the unexpected perk slash job skill of possessing the psychic ability to influence the role of dice, dinAlt manages to score – at great risk to his life – a huge amount of dough for Kerk to bankroll a last-ditch cargo of weapons and ammo to keep life going a little longer on the Deathworld.

But as part of the bargain, Jason insists on tagging along.

Imagine daily life as a never-ending bunker assault. Running a foxhole trench to get to work. Kindergarten which focuses solely on self-defense and weapons handling. Such is the mindset of the Pyrran, and rightfully so. It seems as if the whole planet has consciously aligned itself to eradicate these human invaders (descendants, by the way, of a space freighter which crashed upon the world three centuries back).

Such is the riddle Jason sets upon himself to solve. Especially since, as a Pyrran newbie, he can barely carry his double-gee weight, and his stubbornness results in getting dangerous Kerk’s son killed. On the run on a world where his life expectancy should be measured in minutes, our hero finds unexpected help and is forced to use his gambling assets to save both the Pyrrans intent on killing him and the flora and fauna of a world intent on killing them all.

Was never a huge Harrison fan, though, as best I can recall, I never really read much of him growing up. However, this Deathworld novel is part of a 450-page paperback entitled Deathworld Trilogy, so I do intend on reading the two sequels. Probably will alternate them with the other handful of SF paperbacks on my desk awaiting a read. I also have another Harrison trilogy, To the Stars, consisting of a trio of early 80s novellas, which I just put into rotation and will probably get to this Fall.

Deathworld made me a Harrison fan. Grade: solid A.

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