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Trouble Magnet, by Alan Dean Foster
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2007
Review Posted: 6/7/2008
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 7 out of 10

Trouble Magnet, by Alan Dean Foster

Book Review by Edward F. McKeown

Have you read this book?

The Flinx and Pip duo is a long standing team in SF. The boy and his "dog," in this case an Alaspinian flying snake, whose venom makes the Giger's Alien's blood look like orange juice. Trouble Magnet is billed as yet another adventure of this pair and in a way that tells you want to expect from this book. Magnet delivers an amiable, mildly adventurous story showcasing the Phillip Lynx aka Flinx (an esper from a eugenics program) and the deadly Pip. They will meet and defeat dastardly villains and Pip will spit acid into the eyes of people threatening her master. At the end of the story these characters will not be significantly changed. It's like hearing music that like playing in another room. You've heard it before, it's a piece you like but the sound is kind of muffled, no longer fresh. This is an amiable Twinkie as opposed to a meal. If you are fond of Flinx and Pip you will enjoy traveling with them again. If you did not know them before I'm not sure this book would make you a fan.

Foster gives new readers a bit of Flinx's history though sometimes too much of the same parts of it and a new reader may be a bit bewildered by who and what Flinx is. While not completely covered by this book, the short version is that he's the creation of the discredited Meliorare society. The eugenics experiments go bad and the surviving children are scattered among the stars as foundlings. Flinx grew up in the care of Mother Mastiff as a street urchin. He wangled his way on board a starship bound for deep space on an expedition. There he encounters the Krang a device of the ancient, powerful and long-gone race of the Tar-Ayim. The planet-sized weapon, a combination of church organ and Deathstar, awakens latent powers in Flinx. In other adventures he acquires knowledge, wealth and influence and some dangerous friends as he journeys among the stars in his continuing quest to find out more about his origins and most particularly, his father.

Flinx is cast in the role of a modern Diogenes, disillusioned by his species; he is voyaging on his private starship in search, once again, of the Krang to combat a deadly alien menace called the Vom. This is not well-developed in this book as it is something to occur perhaps in the far future. This puzzled me as I remember the Vom being destroyed in an earlier book, Bloodhype, by Flinx and a resurrected Tar Ayim. So I do not know if this is more Vom, a Super Vom, or Vom Release II for Windows. It doesn't matter in that we do not meet it and all we know is it is big, bad and heading for us, eventually.

Our hero is despondent over the wounding of his recently found love, Clarity Held, in a prior book. We learn little about her other that she is recovering under the care of some powerful friends of Flinx. We are told he loves her, which is good because we will not find it out otherwise. Flinx's emotions seem remote and muted to me and I never got the sense of an agony of separation or the longing of love. While he debates if he should abandon the search for the Krang to return and live out his life with her, there is no passion in it. In consequence while I am told there is a love I am not shown it and do not believe it.

Flinx decides to turn away from the search for the weapon to ward off our annihilation to again walk among humans and see if we are worthy of being saved . He picks the frontier world of Visaria (a wretched hive of scum and villainy --oh wait- that's Tatoinne) for his hiatus. Once there he meets a street urchin named Subar and the gang of Faganesque characters that Subar runs with, caught in the act of mugging some aliens. Flinx stops the robbery of the thranx aliens, driving off the toughs but saving Subar from the local authorities. The boy reminds him of himself.

Having intervened he becomes involved in the struggle to save the "pod" of youths from the merciless crime lord, Shaeb. In the process, Flinx comes into contact with a sole surviving member of the Meliorare Association, who gives him a clue as to where to continue his other quest to find his father, setting up the next book.

The Pros: Pip and Flinx, two engaging characters that we have followed for years. The piece only moves when they are on stage.

The Cons: Are we really to believe that Flinx needs to find his "good man" on Visaria or he will abandon his species and maybe all life to its fate? Does he really need some reminder that the same species that spawned Adolf Hitler, and Pol Pot gave us Mother Theresa, St. Francis and Sophia Loren? (Ok for all you people under 30, Milla Jovovich.) Again I am told of his existential dilemma but it seems melodramatic, even childish.

Similarly, Flinx's near god-like powers mean that at no point, even when his powers slip, do I believe he is ever in any real danger of dying or even losing anyone significant in this "episode." On the two occasions where it appears our hero faces imminent demise, deus ex machinas intervene and in one instance the author even says so. So how am I to feel more than mild interest in how Flinx will solve this one? As with Sherlock Holmes, the answer is more one of intellectual curiosity then emotional impact. "My, that was clever," as opposed to "Ohmigod."

I found the new characters of Subar and Ashile of little interest and skimmed over them, their pod, their dialect (shades of "Clockwork Orange") and petty crime machinations to get back to the main action with Flinx and Pip.

Point of view was somewhat unsettling in this book. Lately it seems more authors are wandering "head-to head" without breaking chapters or even using the traditional three line-break. For me this breaks down my identification with the main characters. I no longer feel like I am in someone's head but sort of floating around the action, disconnected from and immune to it. This weak and wandering POV seems to be indulged in for little purpose, to gather information that could be achieved other ways. If we do need to hop into other heads, it seems to me that we should be there longer and for more of a purpose. This could just be my more traditional approach to writing -- like I say, I see more and more of it but I can't say I care for it. It has a lazy feel to me.

If you are looking to kick back and just enjoy a Twinkie, this is for you. If you want more meat look for Fosters' much earlier work.
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