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Sliding Scales

by Alan Dean Foster

(Del Rey Books, US$24.95 / Canada $34.95, 246 pages, hardback, 2004, ISBN 0-345-45712-9.)

Review by Elizabeth Barrette

cover scanSliding Scales is the ninth book in its series, currently called "the Adventures of Flinx of the Commonwealth," part of Alan Dean Foster's much larger spread of Commonwealth novels. Oddly enough, I think it would work as an introduction to the series and the characters, because most of the action is completely separate from what has gone before. The whole point of Flinx's visit to a quiet little world called Jast is for him to take a vacation.

Jast lies outside of Commonwealth space, and outside the AAnn Empire, with somewhat more of a connection to the latter. The local fauna, sentient and nonsentient alike, moves at a languid pace and presents a mostly pleasing appearance. It's a perfect place for Flinx to relax -- except that almost the first thing he does is inadvertently annoy his AAnn escort into knocking him over a cliff, and the resultant fall leaves him with little memory of who or what he is. Which to be fair is probably the only way Flinx could get a vacation.

Interestingly enough, Flinx is rescued by a group of eccentric AAnn; an artists' colony, in fact. This is the first we see of this reptilian race being other than straightforward and imperialistic. The AAnn artists are delightfully fresh and alien. Flinx having a decent hand at drawing, he fits right in ... until an overzealous government official decides that he's a terrorist in league with some of the native Vssey who resent the AAnn presence on their world. So much for that vacation, after all.

Sliding Scales is part artistic introspection and part political commentary, with a dash of adventure thrown in, all wrapped in a science fiction setting. Speculative fiction fans in general will enjoy it, and of course it's a must for Foster readers. Recommended.

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