Last month's visit to Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth and the ever-popular Pip & Flinx was called 'Reunion', even though the actual reunion it describes happens late on in the book and doesn't seem particularly important. It's notably also with a character that Flinx wasn't too happy to reconnect with. This book, not called 'Reunion', because that would be just plain confusing, is much more worthy of the title. It features not only one but at least three reunions, one of which fills the majority of the book, and they're all with characters with which he's very happy to reconnect.
The first and most notable of them is Clarity Held, whom we expected to become Flinx's significant other a few books earlier in 'Flinx in Flux', but who promptly vanished from the series. Well, after some traumatic events at the beginning of this novel, he feels the need to seek her out, even if it's been six years, so that's precisely what he does. After all, he has the freedom and the spaceship to do pretty much whatever he wants, right? Well, he's not feeling quite so free now given what's been going on since we met him last and what he's begun to experience.
For one, he starts this book unconscious in a hospital on Goldin IV, having been knocked unconscious in some sort of shopping mall with a score of others. Given that Flinx is a genetic anomaly, having been created by the outlawed Meliorare Society, he's done a good job thus far of keeping out of hospitals and this exception proves why that's been a good idea: a few routine tests and he's the talk of the town. Needless to say, his first task on waking up is to get out of there as quickly as he can.
For another, his time in a coma is spent in a rather unusual way. He finds his consciousness travelling out of his body and speeding away through the vastness of the universe to the Great Nothingness, a massive area wherein nothing exists, not even stars. Well, except a great evil, that is some sort of Lovecraftian elder go, albeit without tentacles or eyes. It doesn't seem to exist physically, but it's there nonetheless and it's not merely travelling towards Earth but accelerating towards it. And, for some reason, Flinx knows that he has a part to play in battling it. He's not the only one either, because the mysterious Order of Null, which worships this imperceptible evil, is aware that he exists and are doing all they can to remedy that situation.
Put simply, he needs someone to talk to, someone who understands what he is and would listen to a tale as wild as this one. And so to New Riviera (or Nur), a paradise world, to track down Clarity Held, which turns out to be a pretty good idea. The problem is that it's been six years since their romantic entanglements on Longtunnel and she's moved on in many ways, not least into a relationship with Bill Ormann, a VP of Ulricam, the gengineering firm for which she now works. Bill, of course, isn't merely a third wheel but a particularly jealous one, which is hardly what she wants in a boyfriend, so the innocuous time she spends with Flinx causes more problems than it ever should.
After introducing what we assume is the big story in the slow but quickening approach of the disembodied evil in the Great Nothingness, we therefore shift into little stories, like the aborted relationship between Clarity and Flinx and that jealous third wheel who only gets more jealous as time goes by. For what is ostensibly a work of cosmic horror, this sure seems like a love triangle. However, the little story does, in the end, connect with the big story and everything we experience here gradually leads back to the point, even if we don't ever expect it to.
What's odd is that I really can't talk about much. The story here is more in depth than the one in 'Reunion' but it still feels tantalisingly in the future, maybe in the next book or the one after. For now, we seem to be focused on Flinx's headaches and his newfound ability to not only influence others with his talents but to knock them out in the process. He worries that he's losing control of his powers, a seriously dangerous thought indeed, and Clarity is one of the few people who knows enough about him to be able to help, even if she's six years out of date.
I wonder what Alan Dean Foster was thinking going into 'Reunion'. He'd written six prior Pip & Flinx books in well over two decades, but clearly decided to knuckle down and explore a really big story arc for them in what became seven books in less than a decade. This is the second of them and, while it continues immediately from the last, it focuses on a different piece of the puzzle. It seems like Foster is collecting disparate elements that he plans to connect in the future but doesn't want to get around to that quite yet.
There's the new Krang onto which Flinx stumbles in AAnn space in 'Reunion'. There's the sentient plantlife that covers the surface of Midworld and met up with our hero in 'Mid-Flinx'. Now there's the incalculable evil heading towards Earth in 'Flinx's Folly'. None of these things are tied together, but we can't fail to hear the unspoken word 'yet', especially with the reappearance of some old friends late on in this book.
So the big question of the day is where we're going. Presumably Flinx is destined to battle this great evil and it will take the assistance of the Midworld flora and the power of the Krang to win out. But how? Foster doesn't seem to be too interested in answering that question quite yet and I wonder how many more books it'll take for him to get there. For now, he's playing the patient game, growing characters and connecting them, having fun with little dramas in the process. Maybe everything will start to connect in book nine, 'Sliding Scales', but then again maybe it won't. Only the Shadow knows, but we'll find out in November. ~~ Hal C F Astell
For other books in the series click here
For other books by Alan Dean Foster click here