Sliding Scales

by Alan Dean Foster

Del Rey, October, 2004.
Hardcover, 256 pages.
ISBN: 0345461568

Sliding Scales by Alan Dean Foster Philip "Flinx" Lynx, the youthful hero of eight prior adventures with his beloved empathic mini-dragon Pip, is feeling really burned out. In fact, he's depressed, which is unusal for this resiliant young man with the world on his shoulders and mysterious assassins on his trail. So, his ship's AI suggests that what he needs is a vacation. Flinx agrees, and sets out for the obscure planet Jast, in an area which is claimed by both the Commonwealth and the Aan Empire. The Aan have a token presence on Jast, which really is a backwater world, so they are intrigued by Flinx's arrival. Nevertheless, an Aan official named Takuuna makes him welcome and offers to be his guide (the natives, the mushroom-like and peaceful Vssey are totally ignored by the militaristic Aan). While touring a canyon, Takuuna's instincts get the better of him and he knocks Flinx into a canyon and then leaves, believing him to be dead. Flinx eventually awakens, with amnesia. He is taken in by an Aan artists' colony (which could be an oxymoron, given the Aan's disdain for the arts). Meanwhile, a terrorist attack has been launched against an Aan installation. In order to explain the death of the human he was guiding, Takuuna dreams up a terrorist conspiracy theory between Flinx and a native Jastian named Vessey.

The reptilian Aan are notorious for their disdain for the soft-skinned humans and for their passionate scheming to get ahead in the military heirarchy. Alan Dean Foster weaves a surprisingly intricate and moving tale about acceptance and family in this ninth, and dark entry in the usually light-hearted SF adventure series. Foster excels at big ideas, at world-building, and at creating memorable, interesting characters. Those qualities are all on display in Sliding Scales, which reads more like a stand-alone than part of a series. The outcast Aan artists who overcome their prejudice to adopt Flinx as one of their own, the exploration of alien art, and the political maneuverings of the Aan officer who will literally do anything to get ahead, all make for fascinating -- and sometimes very funny -- reading. Alan Dean Foster never disappoints. This prolific author never repeats himself. From his adventure series starring Pip and Flinx series to the SF noir of The Mocking Program, to his outstanding short stories, his work is always different, fresh and imaginative.

--Claire E. White

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This review was published in the January-February, 2005 of The Internet Writing Journal.

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