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Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Damned

I recently snagged a copy of A Call to Arms (Alan Dean Foster) from the local library (with thanks to Drek). The basic idea in the novel is neat:

The Weave is a loose confederation of vertebrate alien races engaged in permanent war against the Amplitur (telepathic slug-like slavers). So far the Weave is holding its own, but it's not easy conducting a war when evolution has suppressed the ability to kill others (only a few species in the Weave are even capable of actual fighting, though the rest do what they can to support the war effort*).

What the Weave would really like is to be allied with aliens who are actually good at killing. So off they go in search of such allies. They manage to locate what is frankly a hell-world: a world wracked with active geology, brutal weather, and vicious competition for any ecological niches. The dominant sentient species on this world is strong and violent, just the sort of ass-kicking uber-soldier the Weave needs (not to mention the Amplitur).

By this point you won't be surprised when I reveal that the particular hell-world in question is more commonly known as Earth. Nor will you will be surprised that some might regret hiring the galaxy's psychopaths as mercenaries...

It's a very cute conceit. Obviously similar examples have been done before (Dune, for instance, has a similar hell-world), but I can't recall any other author arguing that Earth is such a horrible place.

I can't wholeheartedly recommend this novel -- many of the interesting ideas aren't terribly well developed -- but it's such a neat idea that I wanted to share it with you. The series continues with The False Mirror and The Spoils of War (which I have also read and may share with you in a future post).

It's difficult to pique your interest without offering spoilers. I was particularly amused by the scenes in A Call to Arms when the scouting party of the Weave manages to locate the human world. What follows can only be described as SPOILERS, so feel free to break off here. (Sorry, Billy Goat.)

First, when the Weave locates Earth, they send down an unmanned probe. After some time, they lose contact with it. What happened? It's all very puzzling -- a few individuals suggest the probe may even have been shot down. But that's impossible -- no one would shoot before investigating. Obviously the best thing is to send another probe. Several hours later, they lose contact with that probe. Huh? I love the confusion shown by the Weave soldiers (soldiers!) who simply cannot conceive of an immediate, violent response.

Not long after, the aliens resolve to send a scouting party to interrogate a human. They locate a yacht with one inhabitant, a burnt-out musician bumming around the Caribbean. One of the more bad-ass soldiers sneaks up behind the human and grabs him by the shoulder. The human, startled, lashes out and breaks the soldier's arm. Modest chaos ensues (keep in mind that no one would have expected an immediate violent response). Eventually things calm down - everyone is impressed, including the poor fellow whose arm has been broken. They try to communicate, but -- oh, crap! he's running, how the hell can he move that fast -- the human jumps ship. Priceless. Highly trained soldiers engaged in a thousand-year war, shown up by one of the more pathetic examples of humanity.

As I said, it's cute. Great? No. Entertaining? Sure.

* I suppose that means buying war bonds**?

** Asterisks used in honour of Drek.


Drek said...

Hey, what's a post without footnotes?

Mister Troll said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mister Troll said...

A post without footnotes would be like a journal article published without a colon in the title!

Actually, when I submitted my PhD thesis, one of my committee members objected to the number of footnotes that I used. "This reads like a thesis in the humanities," he sniffed.

I was amused. Most of the footnotes stayed.

(Dangit, *proof-read*, Troll!)