Deathworld 1 by Harry Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved this book! It wasn’t perfect, but boy, was it unique and original! It was so interesting and so intriguing and so action packed, especially for such a small book. And it was really good, surprisingly so for one published as long ago as 1960.
Jason dinAlt, an interplanetary gambler, is forced to take a small sum of money and gamble to make a huge sum of money or face death by some huge, deathly stranger he encounters in his new hotel room. And he does it. But he takes the casino for so much that he has to escape with the stranger. He discovers that this man, Kerk, is an ambassador from a planet he’s never heard of — Pyrrus. The money is for a large weapons shipment. Jason quizzes Kerk about Pyrrus and is intrigued when he is told it’s the most dangerous planet in the galaxy, that mankind is always at war with every living creature, as well as the whole environment, on the planet. Jason thinks of it as a challenge and decides to go to Pyrrus with Kerk, against Kerk’s wishes. And so he does.
When he gets there, he is immediately brought inside a large building and begins survival training with small children. He’s outfitted with a hardy gun and develops quick draw instincts. He practices in simulators against predators and plants and insects and learns to use his medkit and how to survive, along with the six year olds. Eventually he’s learned all he thinks there is to learn, but he hasn’t been released yet, so he complains and they finally let him outside. And he’s shocked. He’s immediately attacked by some huge beast with large, sharp teeth and giant claws that he manages to shoot. The gravity is twice that of Earth’s. There are volcanoes, hurricanes, five or six rainstorms a day, snowstorms, hailstorms, earthquakes, grass blades with real blades on them, insects that can poison you within seconds, etc. The city of 30,000 people is walled off and everyone is trained to kill anything nonhuman that moves.
Jason begins to think something is odd about this. He starts to think that it’s weird how everything on the planet is trying to kill all the humans and maybe, just maybe, there’s someone or something directing them to do this for some reason. He’s determined to find out and put a stop to this war, for that’s what it is. He goes to the library and goes through the remains of the old colony’s records, but they’re all destroyed, except for one, which details life on the planet for the original settlers. And it wasn’t quite so bad back then. So what happened? He needs access to more records. However, there’s a large scale attack on the city and everyone has to go to the battle. He goes and while trying to escape the killer animals, a Pyrrun man is killed saving Jason. And Kerk is incensed. He banishes Jason to his quarters and tells him he’s going off planet the next time a ship leaves in 11 days. However, Jason is restless and can’t let it go. He sneaks out and goes to the kitchens. He talks to people, asking for their records. They laugh at him. No one lives long enough on Pyrrus to have records. He asks about oral histories. They laugh at that too. However, someone mentions something about “grubbers” and he asks what that is. And is astonished at the hostile and violent reaction he gets. From more than one person. But a semi-friend, while hostile, suggests he ask someone else, so he finds this person and does and he talks to Jason. Apparently, these city dwellers aren’t the only people on the planet. That’s shocking. Apparently there are savage barbarians living across the jungles and not only that, but the city trades goods with them for food! Jason is blown away. He asks if he can go on an exchange run and talks his way into it. When he arrives at the destination, he escapes into the jungle and is left alone. However, nothing attacks him. Strange. At some point, though, someone or something grabs him from behind and he is taken captive. He travels some distance and is released from his bonds and he finds he is in the grubbers’ hands. They want to know who he is and what he wants. He explains that he’s an offworld ecologist, studying animal and plant life on the planet and that he came from the city and wanted to meet them. He strikes up a friendship with them, discovers they’re farmers, descended from the original colonists, resent the city dwellers for withholding important goods like medicine and yet live in areas with no environmental hostility. In fact, they have pets and pack animals. Jason is a psi and all of a sudden realizes that everything on this planet has psionic abilities and the truth of the situation comes to him. The rest of the book lies in his efforts to help the city folks attain peace with their attackers and bring the grubbers and the city people back together to live in harmony. Can it be done? Hard task. Maybe he’s up to it, maybe he’s not. That’s what sequels are for, right?
Interesting book. Some people complain that it’s too direct, not complex enough, but I have no troubles with that. It was still interesting and entertaining and again, highly original. I’ve never read anything like it and you rarely get to say something like that. This is the first book in a trilogy and I’ll probably end up buying the other two books. Highly recommended.