Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book Review: Deathworld 2

© 1964 by Harry Harrison

Spent a couple of days reading this sequel by Harry Harrison out in the sticks of Pennsylvania, the same place where I read the original Deathworld a few weeks ago. Though my parents’ home out there doesn’t really hint in any way of worlds of death (it’s bucolic, peaceful, restful), I’ll probably save Deathworld 3, the concluding mini-novel in Harrison’s paperback trilogy, for the next time I head out there, maybe next month, Thanksgiving at the latest.

Like its predecessor, Deathworld 2 is a page-turning actioner with a lot of SF elements tossed in. However, ninety-nine percent of the action takes place not on Pyrrus, the “death world” of the first novel, but on an unnamed “death world.” Our stranded hero, Jason dinAlt, must fight tooth and claw for daily survival and somehow get his carcass off that planet before it, er, visits death upon him.

Being a page-turning actioner, the hoopla and excitement launches immediately by the third page. Jason is kidnapped by a pseudo-Calvinist mercenary to be tried for alleged “crimes” that occurred at the start of the original Deathworld. Attempting escape, Jason crash lands the merc’s starship on that nameless second world of death, populated by a semi-Stone Age culture that fortunately has the primitive use and understanding of twentieth-century technology. Some tribes worship the god Elektro (they have rudimentary electricity), others the combustion engine, still others basic chemistry (these, for example, use spheres of poison gas as weapons). But the entire planetary culture is one of master-slave relationship, where all life is short, cheap, and brutal, and one only advances by murdering one’s master and assuming his place.

The novel is remarkably similar to the ingenious L. Sprague de Camp novel, Lest Darkness Fall, which I read years ago and reviewed here (my fourth review ever, written way back in April of 2008). That being said, L. Sprague basically broke the mold; there’s not much another author can do to add twists and turns in the basic plot. Which is, guy from the future has knowledge of technology his masters want/need to rule, he bargains with said rulers, other rulers want to kill him, and he must outwit all other rulers plus contenders to the throne to try to stay alive and get out of the current time/place he’s stuck in.

So Jason works his way up the planetary chain of bigwigs, eventually outwits them all, keeps that pseudo-Calvinist mercenary at bay (a truly thorn-in-the-side character), gets beat up a heckuva lot, comes dangerously close to death’s door thanks to an unfortunately-placed spear, and exercises some brainpower to get rescued in the last couple of pages.

Bottom line: It ain’t Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, or Heinlein, or even Zelazny on a good day. But it is entertaining, and a quick read at that.

Grade: B.

Note: Deathworld 3 has to return to Pyrrus, and something big has to happen, something that resolves the whole “death world” thing, allowing mankind and the native life of Pyrrus to live in peace. Or at least, under détente.

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