“For unto us a child was born...” No, Alan Dean Foster’s latest in his popular “Pip and Flinx” is not technically a Christmas story, but it is a novel about the empathic Philip Lynx’s (Flinx’s) being mistaken by the Dwarrans for a messianic figure. Foster’s philosophic and humorous take on this is thought-provoking, as is usual with his tales, and a very enjoyable book whatever the time of year. Do you have to have read the previous books in this series to appreciate Running From The Deity? No. I admit, this is the first one I’ve read, and while there are some references to Flinx and Pip’s previous adventures and a continuation of themes from other books, they don’t have to have been read to get a kick out of Running From The Deity, as I did.
Flinx is searching, at the beginning of Running From The Deity, in his AI spaceship known as the Teacher, for a force that’s threatening to destroy entire galaxies. He’s on a mission given to him “by his good friends and mentors Bran Tse-Mallory and the Eint Truzenzuzex.” His goal is to try to find, somewhere in “a region known as the Great Emptiness,” a voracious and insatiable “primeval weapons platform that had for millennia masqueraded as the tenth planet of the system known as Pyrassis.” Once found, he is supposed to establish “mental contact with the machine” as he did on a previous adventure and, by enlisting its aid, convince it “to participate in the defense of the galaxy.”
A piece of cake, you might say, but one slight problem confronts Flinx and his pet and friend, the Alaspinian minidrag Pip: their ship needs to locate a suitable planet on which to obtain materials to make much-needed repairs on itself. When the nearest likely planet on which the Teacher can do this happens to be both inhabited and a Class Ivb world with sentients who “existed at a pre-steam or lower level of technology” and that, as such, the Commonwealth prohibits any contact with them, this does not slow down our intrepid hero at all. Flinx knows that the repairs are necessary, that it is very unlikely he’ll encounter another Commonwealth vessel in such a remote region, and he reasons that it will be
“Just a brief, if illicit, visit. Then he would depart, he and his swiftly repaired ship stealing away just as though they had never been there, leaving any natives none the wiser or Commonwealth authorities any the angrier.”
But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. Flinx leaves the Teacher, sprains his ankle after jumping in the lower-gravity conditions and landing with one foot in a hole, and the Dwarran net-caster Ebbanai comes to help him. Flinx’s experiences with his “host family” of Ebbanai and his mate, Storra, violates Commonwealth regulations, results in them trying to make money from his ability to use science and medicine to heal other Dwarrans, causes many of the aliens to believe he is a god, and eventually leads to a civil war erupting on the planet. He has to stop the war before continuing on searching for the weapons platform and saving the galaxy and realizes that, perhaps, some of the Commonwealth’s regulations actually had good reasons behind them.
Running from the Deity reminds me of Walter Tevis’s The Man Who Fell To Earth in many respects, another great book about a visiting alien who has advanced knowledge. Many Dwarrans take to calling Flinx not by his name but by the word “Visitant”. The initial impressions Flinx has of this world as a Paradise dissolve. Because his empathic Talent no longer results in his having debilitating headaches, and the Dwarrans also experience the feelings of others by touching their antennae (or “Sensitives”), he feels that their planet might even be an ideal one for him to live on. But, these feelings give way to the eventual realization that the inhabitants, while relatively primitive, are not lacking in sin, are indeed as warlike as those on any other world.
If you like scifi full of action, philosophic commentary, adventure, and humorous Terry Pratchett-like moments, you will immensely enjoy Running From The Deity. Thought-provoking, it delivers an entertaining story-line and is as good a novel as any to introduce readers to the brilliant writing of Alan Dean Foster. I didn’t read Foster’s books for one reason because I thought the names “Flinx” and Pip” sounded too much when combined, like the title of some cartoonish Nintendo game. But, I’m glad I read Running From The Deity and found this to be an erroneous assumption. Highly recommended.