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Flinx's Folly

by Alan Dean Foster

(Del Rey, $24.95, 272 pages, hardback; November 2003.)

I began reading science fiction around the age cover scanof ten when a friend introduced me to Heinlein's Have Space Suit, Will Travel. I loved that story and went on to read much of Heinlein's work. I was a cautious reader back then and would not easily branch out from my secure position of enjoying Heinlein. However, the next author to catch hold of me for a short time was Alan Dean Foster, and the book that caught me was For Love of Mother-Not. It is the first of the Pip and Flinx adventures and, for a youth, it was perfect.

Philip Lynx, known as Flinx, is a wonderful character -- young, adventurous, talented, imaginative, and an empathic telepath who is destined to save the universe. His pet minidrag, Pip, is devoted and deadly -- a protector and a friend. Together they seek out both Flinx's father and a way to avert the impending doom of the galaxy.

The stories of this series always have been fun, light romps from one alien world to another. They never so much push the boundaries of sf as play within its more defined parameters. There are heroes and villains and even damsels in distress, and it all blends into a satisfying albeit expected journey.

"Why shouldn't it be so?" the youth within me cries out, bristling at the adult subtext of the above sentence. If I were to read the latest incarnation of a Hardy Boys Mystery, I would be outraged if the boys were not their usual selves. Some series are meant to be stagnant because, though the original readers grow up, new ones arrive with the youthful eyes that the older readers have lost.

And what fantastic eyes those are. More than any other type of audience, children suspend their disbelief with less insistence and less inhibition. I remember watching Speed Racer, Starblazers or the infinitely horrid animated version of Star Trek. These cartoons were little more than snapshots cut into pieces and moved around -- a bizarre, cheap form of animation (if we use the word quite loosely). The point is, that like many other children, I loved those shows. I accepted the little given me and permitted my imagination to fill in the rest. In reading, I would do the same thing whether it was Heinlein, Foster or, a little later, Asimov. Once, I read a version of King Kong that astounded me. I have no doubt that were I to get hold of that novel again, I would be shocked at how little effort was put into it.

This is not to say that Flinx's Folly is shallow or worthless or even a bizarre, cheap creation. In fact, it's a solid work that holds all the elements I loved as a child. It's got adventure, aliens and a fast plot that doesn't slow down for the mushy stuff. Foster's book delivers what it promises, and any fan of this series will enjoy this next chapter.

However, if you have never read a Pip and Flinx adventure, do not start with this one. Flinx's Folly reads more like the preface to a larger story that will be coming in the next few years (and books) than a complete novel in itself. It's about the beginnings of things and leaves us itching for more. The storyline that is designed to hold up as the main plot (that of a jealous lover whose psychopathic tendencies turn his focus onto killing Flinx and the woman they both desire) is just an excuse to further the series' main arc. It's as if Foster knew this storyline was ultimately unimportant, so he relied on those youthful eyes to ride it out. It's a fun ride, but not the best way to begin.

For the young readers out there, I encourage you to start this series from the beginning, and I suspect you'll love this latest incarnation of the story when you read it in context. If you're equipped with an intimate understanding of the characters (and a lot of old friends return in this one), the substories in Flinx's Folly will come to life. Moments like the one early on in which Flinx displays angst over all his years of being followed, chased, and targeted take on greater depth when seen as part of the whole.

This is a terrific series for young adults. I suspect that if Tor's recent foray into the YA market succeeds, we will see all of Pip and Flinx's adventure repackaged for the audience that is best suited to appreciate them. Del Rey would be crazy not to do this.

Review by Stuart Jaffe.

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