Six years after 'The End of the Matter', the last in the Pip & Flinx trilogy, or so it was at the time, author Alan Dean Foster decided to give them a prequel, 'For Love of Mother-Not'. Frankly, it doesn't feel like he blinked since finishing that trilogy. This carries on in precisely the same vein, just with a younger Flinx.
We start on familiar territory, not because we've been there before but because we were with the older Flinx as he discovered his past. Now we get to see him bought in the 'slave market', but by someone who only goes by Mastiff. He calls her Mother. Hence Mother Mastiff. Who'da thunk it? What's new here is that Flinx influences her to do so. She was just passing and had no wish to bid on anyone, but everything suddenly felt right and she did so under some sort of mild compulsion. He may not even realise he influenced her, but clearly he did.
He doesn't have much of a clue about his Talent at this point because he's only eight years of age. She was old even thenninety or so, though fit and ableand she takes him and puts him to work at her stall in the marketplace of Drallar, the largest city on Moth. So Flinx's story begins. Of course, it's just Flinx at this point, and Mother Mastiff, because he hasn't even found Pip yet, so we skip on to when that happens.
It unfolds pretty well, for a relatively banal meeting. He's in bed one night when he feels a tidal wave of hunger and loneliness wash over him, one that he simply can't ignore. He leaves the house to find its source and, shock horror, it turns out to be our favourite Alaspinian minidrag, crawling out of a pile of garbage in an alley. The connection is quick and powerful, as it should be because they promptly become two parts of a whole. Much later, Pip is described by people with far more knowledge than anyone we've met thus far as a 'catalyst creature'. Pip is the first enhancement point in Flinx's evolution into someone who deserves his own series.
The second comes much later and is also handled well, because Foster could so easily have overdone it but he successfully resists the urge. That's sexual maturity, as the sixteen-year-old Flinx finds himself in the extended company of Lauren Walder, almost twice his age but still young and beautiful. The tension of the adventure they're both on adds to the sexual tension he feels but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The majority of the book involves the sixteen-year old-Flinx chasing through the forests of Moth after Mother Mastiff is kidnapped by persons unknown but clearly dangerous. He's very much the Flinx we know and love at this point, merely younger and a little less confident in himself and his abilities. He's still headstrong, smart and imaginative and his empathic talent is an inconsistent help, manifesting itself apparently when it feels like it not when he needs it. Such are growing pains for a unique individual.
It's after Mother Mastiff is kidnapped that we find out why the title, by the way. 'Why risk yourself', asks one of their neighbours. 'She's not really your mother.' Flinx's reply is the appropriately mature, 'Mother or mother-not, she's the only mother I've ever known.' And so he gives chase, even though he's never set foot outside the city before and, once the streets end, the forest begins and keeps on going for most of the rest of the planet, Moth not being a highly populated world.
The last time we spent this much time on Moth was in the first half of 'The Tar-Aiym Krang', our introduction to Flinx and Pip and the Humanx Commonwealth in which they live. That was Foster's debut novel, just over a decade before this one, and he felt the need to get notably detailed about the environment that his characters didn't even really travel through; at points it felt like we were reading a travelogue on Moth. That's not the case here; we discover new places and new creatures along with Flinx, but never at the expense of the story.
And it's on his search for Mother Mastiff, having upgraded from a stupova, a running bird rather like an ostrich but with big webbed feet, to a mudder, some sort of hover-vehicle he borrows from an installation on the way, that he meets Lauren Walder. She's the general manager at a lodge at which he stops, not realising until it happens that he's actually reached his destination. Indiscriminate fire from the bad guys during the ensuing battle leaves a couple of wervils dead on the floor and Lauren doesn't take that well. She had raised them from abandoned kittens and she now wants revenge, so she joins Flinx's quest as it moves on north.
I liked the way this one flowed, even though half of it fleshes out scenes we've already heard about from Flinx's youth and half of it sends him on a mission out of his comfort zone in a number of ways. The only big concern I had was just how much of his background he discovers here. 'Endless Star' and 'The End of the Matter', fully two thirds of that original Pip & Flinx trilogy, are centered around Flinx's quest for knowledge about his past, of which I'm remembering he had almost none. He seems to have a little more here and he discovers far more by the time the book ends. That seems a little odd.
Mostly, though, it's set up well. I particularly appreciated the irony when Flinx ponders on the universe and is agreeable to seeing more of it. 'Someday I'll get off this minor wet world,' he thinks. 'I'll be a free adult, with nothing to tie me down and no responsibilities. I'll lead a relaxed, uncomplicated life of simple pleasures.' Oh yeah, that's how it turns out. Well, maybe it does, given how he and Pip start 'Strange Music', the fifteenth and newest book in the series, which I reviewed last month, but it takes a heck of a lot of time and many hundred pages to get there, which may be the opposite of relaxed and uncomplicated.
I'm looking forward to finding out more about that and I believe key things start to happen in the fifth and next book, 'Flinx in Flux', which I'll tackle next month ~~ Hal C F Astell
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For more books by Alan Dean Foster click here