Off the Shelf — “Orphan Star”

By Marcus Pan

Chain Border

Orphan StarI really enjoyed Orphan Star and went through it quickly because of that. Turning away from the fantasy schtick I was enmeshed in for some time (i.e. past three books were all Zelazny’s), I picked up another Alan Dean Foster and went traipsing about with good ‘ol Flinx and his minidrag Pip(1). In this episode, which takes place prior to the other highly recommended Flinx novel I’ve read, I finally get to meet the Ujurrians for the first time here as Flinx is introduced to them on a wild chase to uncover his parentage.

Flinx, being around seventeen years here, is an orphan sold into slavery but, fortunately, purchased and raised by Mother Mastiff in the Drallian marketplace on an outworld planet. The teenager is picked up by a deviant businessman named Challis, who hopes to utilize his strange telepathic talents to control a prized possession – a Janus jewel. These stones are one of the rarest in the universe, and are able to play back images within their surfaces when controlled by a humanx mind. Challis, however, is not capable to maintain these for long and hopes to entice the boy into doing so with his far-reaching mind powers. Of course, it goes awry – but a passing comment by Challis leads Flinx to correctly believe that the businessman knows more of his ancestry than he himself does.

Flinx chases Conda Challis throughout the Commonwealth planets, attempting to simply extract this information from him. Following clues and hints on a mad hunt, Flinx chases ever on and eventually finds him holed up on a distant planet called Ulru-Ujurr. This planet is under edict by the great Church of the Commonwealth for no apparent reason – at least no reason discerned so far.

Meanwhile throughout the universe, various important humanx figures – scientists, politicians, great minds – are driven to strange and sometimes ground shattering suicides. All perform these suicides after staring into something beautiful they hold in their hand – and it isn’t long before you figure this out to be one of the rare and beautiful Janus jewels, somehow programmed to manipulate the minds of these people to off themselves and in some cases a whole shitload more people along with them. How does this fit into the Orphan Star storyline is wonderfully simple – on Ulru-Ujurr is a mountain in which there is a huge and splendid vein of Janus jewels for mining. A secret alliance between the bloodthirsty reptilian Aans and a large Commonwealth corporation forms to mine these jewels to great profit. But while the Commonwealth company increases its coffers, the Aans use the jewels to increase their kills.

On the planet lives a race called the Ujurrians, whom you might remember from my discussion of Flinx in Flux. These sentient, incredibly intelligent yet childlike creatures turn out to be the reason the planet of Ulru-Ujurr is under edict by the church. Imagine a race of uncivilized beings with such potential that if they were to gain civilization, they would quickly become a master race. The Church placed the planet under edict so that no outside influence could tamper with the race, much like the orders sci-fi fans may remember from Star Trek. I speak of course of the Prime Directive. The question as to whether the Church did this out of fear of what the race could be – or so that the race can develop on its own – is thus far a mystery.

Flinx and his nearly-slaved friend, bound to him by blood oath, Sylzenzuzex escape from the Commonwealth corp’s head, Madam Rudenuaman, and head off into the planet’s frozen waste. Flinx’s telepathic abilities allow him to befriend the Ujurrians and he teaches them the “game” of civilization, starting with a quick revolt against Rudenuaman’s group. The Ujurrians then scurry on their quickly evolving path to being a prime power in the universe – solving problems in a matter of days that humanx scientists have spent centuries on with no result.

The Ujurrian race fascinates me. A race so serenely unencumbered, with pure intellectual capacity and truly advanced minds. Yet still their naiveté is tantamount as Flinx and Syl must teach them different “games,” and how sometimes other people playing these games will cheat – so cheating becomes a part of the game as the Ujurrians advance to the idea. I was also pleased to meet Maybeso along with Flinx for the first time, as he was a great character I came across when I read Flinx in Flux. In short, Foster’s flair for creating races that really get your mind going as you consider the possibilities easily makes him one of the best science fiction writers of all time. And his creation of truly unique and cool-as-hell characters shines yet again. Check this guy out if you haven’t already.

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Buy "Orphan Star"

“Orphan Star” by Alan Dean Foster
Cover Art by Darrell K. Sweet
Copyright © 1977 by Alan Dean Foster
A Del Rey Book
Published by Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0-345-31001-2
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 76-30376

(1) That would be Flinx in Flux, which I reviewed around a year and a half ago in Legends #119.

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