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Book Review: The Light Years Beneath My Feet

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Alan Dean Foster has been writing science fiction and fantasy for decades, and I‘ve frequently enjoyed both his novels and his short fiction (one of my favorite SF tales he wrote was The I Inside). I’d have to say that The Light Years Beneath My Feet is one of his lesser works; an attempt at a “light-hearted” scifi tale that occasionally hints at absurdities captured far more convincingly in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and filled with so much sociological and anthropological concepts that one might well be justified in wondering whether Foster was quite certain which direction he wanted to go.

The book is a second in a trilogy which began in Lost and Found, published last year. Former Chicago commodities broker Marcus Walker had managed to escape the clutches of the evil aliens who had enslaved him and is now residing on the alien planet of the Sessrimathe, together with his oddball companions: George the talking dog; Sque the intelligent (and condescending) K’eremu who likes to stay wet; and the Tuuqualian named Braouk (a huge, imposing fellow with the soul of a poet, albeit a rather long-winded one).

In order to become more “useful,” Marcus has learned to become a gourmet chef using all the amazing technological gadgets and exotic foods available to those who travel across galaxies. But Marcus and his friends all want to be able to return home to their own worlds – worlds which are, more than likely, on the far side of the galaxy and certainly beyond the reckoning of their hosts. Their routine is interrupted when Marcus is invited to travel to the planet of Niyu to demonstrate his talents to the leaders of the nation represented by the alien Viyv-pym, who Marcus finds himself attracted to despite her grating voice and her drastically alien appearance (think of the romance between the Tech Sergeant and the alien in Galaxy Quest and you’re on the right track, only here the alien has no way to “disguise” or alter her appearance).

Once on Niyu, Marcus finds the world to be populated by odd nation-states which exist in a state of perpetual, if limited, warfare. He uses his freewheeling trading skills to play various countries against one another (and yet simultaneously, bringing them together) in order to leverage an advantage for himself and his friends: namely, a way to search for their respective homes.

The thing about The Light Years Beneath My Feet is something I alluded to in the opening of the review. It’s a decent enough SF book, and certainly Foster offers some interesting anthropological angles on alien culture and interaction. But what I felt while reading it was a funny sense of déjà vu: in Marcus’ adventures there was the echo of Arthur Dent’s travels through the universe after Earth is destroyed, only with Marcus things aren’t quite as funny. Which is really too bad in a sense, simply because they’re also not as interesting: the aliens aren’t that exciting, the adventures aren’t that perilous, and the pace slips a bit into the ponderous side of the scale.

As I wrote this review, I was reminded of the old expression about “damning with faint praise.” The truth, however, is that there’s nothing really wrong with The Light Years Beneath My Feet; Foster is an old pro and manages to deliver a fairly well-written tale with a touch of humor and an interesting look at “alien” culture, mixing politics and anthropology with a dry observational wit. The flipside is that there’s nothing really memorable about it either: it is workmanlike scifi without much too give it any kick (or as cooking show guru Emeril would say, there’s no “Bam!” here).

Author’s Note: This article was originally posted at Wallo World

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