The Pip and Flinx series, for all that it was and is highly popular with Alan Dean Foster fans, was hardly being expanded frequently by 2001. After the original trilogy in the seventies (and 'Bloodhype', which we haven't got to chronologically yet), we were treated to only one more book in the eighties (plus a prequel) and one more in the nineties. Then, early in the noughties, Foster finally knuckled down to answering some of the questions that he'd raised long ago and chose to build this series substantially. 'Reunion' feels transitional and it was: it's the first of seven Pip and Flinx books to see print in the noughties, after which the series went back on hold for a decade until last year's 'Strange Music'.
The reason it feels transitional is that we learn little more here than we already knew about Flinx, odd because the story is ostensibly about him going back to finding out about his heritage, even going so far as to 'persuade' others to help him, using the powers that he's been finessing. What we get is a name, Ruud Anasage, Flinx's real birth mother, and a pointer to spark the evolution of the rest of the book.
He's back on Earth, where he doesn't feel remotely at home, and he's managed to orchestrate his way into one of the few direct access points to the Shell, an AI that roughly equates to the internet we might have tomorrow. In the records, he finds his mother's name but not his father's, and, more intriguingly, he finds that all mention of the Meliorares Society which created him has been wiped. The syb file has been deleted, after being stolen by a food company called Larnaca Nutrition, which seems as odd to Flinx as it does to us. What's more, it's not on Earth any more, having been transferred onto a ship, which is now in AAnn space.
Oh yeah, we have some explanations coming! In the meantime, we have to wait for Flinx to escape Earth, in a flurry of imaginative technology that runs the gamut from self-driving cars to a maglev ride down a mountain for fun, via free floating adverts that are a lot more believable than the explosive applications within the Shell that destroy two entire buildings. We even meet a new and enticing character in a shaman who helps Flinx get back to his ship. I like Cayacu and wonder if he'll show up in future books.
And so on to Pyrassis, around which this Larnaca Nutrition ship is hiding, and a wild plot convenience that is not capably explained away here but may be in some of those soon to come books of the noughties. For now, I should only mention that the Larnaca ship is empty, its crew and the syb file Flinx seeks somewhere down on the surface, but it does manage to cause damage to our hero's shuttle, also stranding him down there with little but a really cool suit, both literally and figuratively, to keep the worst of the environment away, at least for a while.
By this point, it won't be surprising to find that the local population is pretty amazing. I've found that the Alan Dean Foster books I've read vary quite substantially in terms of quality of plot, but the imagination behind the flora and fauna on whatever new planet we find ourselves visiting is never less than fantastic, whatever type of ecological region we're in. Midworld was one giant rainforest; Longtunnel was so windswept that all life had moved into the interminable tunnels underground; and Moth is known for its abundant lakes. Pyrassis is a desert world, so the local flora and fauna is different again, much of it camouflaged. Crystal-clad rocks extrude rotating teeth. Worms steal moisture from anything and anyone they can find. Huge creatures bury themselves within the sand with their mouths cunningly disguised as oases for unwary travellers. That's not water, it's saliva!
I could go further but I feel that I'd be venturing into spoiler territory.
Suffice it to say that we get to meet plenty of AAnn, given that this planet is an outpost of theirs. That's both welcome, because they've been a constant threat on the periphery of the Pip and Flinx stories throughout, and unwelcome, because they turn out to be little more, at least at this point, than lizard Klingons.
Suffice it to say that there's something else on Pyrassis that nobody except a characterful pair of elderly AAnn are aware of, and they don't have much of a clue what it is either. They are, at least investigating it, which is far more than anyone else seems willing to do. They're the primary reason why the AAnn aren't one-note villains here in 'Reunion'.
And, talking of the book's title, suffice it to say that there is a reunion, even though it shows up late and, while it's clearly going to have great resonance in the books to come, it doesn't feel particularly important here. We do wonder why the book is named 'Reunion' until we realise that it's less of a novel and more of a prequel to what's to come. Foster is bringing certain things into alignment so that he can explore them in future books, but he has no time to really do it here.
And that's where we leave 'Reunion', realising that some of what happens probably has grand meaning but not meaning that we can grasp at this time. It's great fun, for instance, watching Flinx escape from his infiltration of the Shell in the Andes, but it's really just a ride. All that really matters from the first 75 pages is the knowledge that Flinx is once again looking into his heritage, he's serious this time and that someone has stolen the data. It sets up Pyrassis and Pyrassis sets up the reunion and where we're going next.
In other words, the two words that come quickest to mind here are 'pivotal' and 'insubstantial'. The series isn't likely to make sense without 'Reunion', but there's little else here than a few links between what's gone before and what's still to come. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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