By Harry Harrison
Published by LibriVox
Read by Gregg Margarite
This is actually the first book of a trilogy and I have to admit it reads like one.
Jason dinAlt is a professional gambler who uses his on-again-off-again psionic abilities to cheat. While on a gambling trip (which I get the impression is the only sort he takes) he is hired by the ambassador from the planet Pyrrus to win billions from the planetary government-run casino. Well, governments hate to give away cash unless they are getting much more back in return and Jason and his employer are forced to run for it.
For reasons that make no sense to me, Jason decides to accompany the ambassador back to his planet in spite of the fact that Pyrrus is the most deadly planet ever colonized by Man. All the plants and animals are poisonous, venomous and actively hostile. And also in an evolutionary flux that makes them get increasingly deadly hour by hour. A native who leaves the planet for a few days much undergo retraining in survival techniques to even have a chance. A non-native like Jason, is not thought to have any chance.
Oh, and the planet has a gravity twice that of Earth. I am not sure humans could survive the gravity, never mind the predatory plants and animals, but there you go. Needless to say, pets are not common on Pyrrus. The simple fact, however, is that the Pyrrans are dying out (but they will kill you if you even suggest such a thing. As their environment gets increasingly harsher their population is dropping.
Another subject likely to get one killed is any mention of the “Grubbers.” The Grubbers are a group of colonists who live in the wild and have managed to live in harmony with the ecology of Pyrrus. Naturally the other Pyrrans hate them and the feeling is mutual.
Jason ought to just take the next ship off planet, but for reasons that are never clear, instead he decides to do what he can to reunite the city dwellers (or Junkmen) with the Grubbers and in doing so he must discover a way in which all Pyrrans can not only survive their world but thrive on it even though any suggestion along those lines is akin to heresy, punishable by death at the hands of the nearest Pyrran.
It’s typical Harrison when you get right down to it, but I think it’s better than Bill the Galactic Hero which in my mind should probably have never seen print, much less been a series. In many ways it is typical of 1960’s science fiction too and has had a fair-sized audience, so much so that a Return to Deathworld series was written in Russian by Harrison and two Russian authors, though it has never been published in English that I know of.
Gregg Margarite’s style of reading is sort of “In your face.” By that I mean it always sounds like he is leaning toward you as he reads. Sometimes it sounds like he gets a little too close. This time I had the feeling his nose was maybe an inch in front of mine and it took several chapters for me to adjust. However, adjust I did and then settled back to listen to the story.
I cannot say this book interested me enough to want to read the others in the series. In fact, I can say I will not go out of my way to do so, although I have a copy in my library so I must have read them at one point or other. The story is certainly not particularly memorable to me. I am far more likely to remember Mister Margarite’s reading of the book, while may have felt uncomfortable to me at first, kept me listening to the end. I’m certainly not sure I would have continued to read it. I should mention that Mister Margarite died of a heart attack in 2012. He left behind a large number of recordings for all of us to enjoy.