Books Of The Damned

Title: The Books Of The Damned (trilogy)
Author: Alan Dean Foster
Genre: SF
Ranking: ?Unranked
LibraryThing: Title:Books Of The Damned

I have read about five of Alan Dean Foster's SF novels; "Though Crystal Tears", the three books of The Damned ("A Call To Arms", "The False Mirror" and "The Spoils of War") and one of the Pip & Flinx novels. I have found myself frustrated. Thing is, he's got good ideas, and good plots, okay characters - and leaden style. I like his ideas and plots - not mind-warping like Greg Bear or Phillip K. Dick, but reasonably interesting ideas and treatments - first contact, mental powers, the nature of war and humanity, and so on. His aliens (at least in The Damned trilogy) have the same kind of weaknesses as those of Hal Clement; a tendency to make aliens by exaggerating some human characteristic and making that the norm for the aliens. That's okay - at least it's not making them exactly like humans, and I like the thesis of different species having different things that they excel at.

It is his writing style where things fall down. I found myself skipping paragraphs and even, once, a whole chapter, to try to get to a bit more interesting and exciting, skipping descriptions to get to dialogue and so forth. I think the problem is that Alan Dean Foster has a tendency to tell, not show. He certainly tosses in narrative chunks to cover periods where the plot isn't happening fast. His prose is workmanlike rather than beautiful. This was brought home to me by the book which I read immediately after I had finished the third volume in The Damned trilogy...

Try this for comparison:

"By the time he was twelve years old, Ranji knew he liked to kill. His parents, naturally, encouraged him.

By the time of the Trials he had added four years of experience, education, and maturity to a great deal of additional height, weight, and strength. With these came confidence in his abilities, a soft-spoken assurance much admired and valued by the rest of the soldier-trainees in his age group.

There was no jealousy among them, that being an alien concept shared by the multitude of monsters whose ultimate goal was the destruction of civilization. Why would anyone be jealous of him? Were they not all striving for the same end, seeking enthusiastically the same results? Achievement among friends was to be applauded, not envied. Who would not wish to have a soldier more skilled in the arts of combat than oneself fighting on his flank?"

-- The False Mirror (opening paragraphs)

"Each snowflake melted as it batted into the thick walls of the Citadel, but still they came, like an invading army.

Eighty-five storeys below, everything was black or white. Only the tallest of the ruins were visible now, the snows covered the rest. Not that there had been much to see before the ice had come, merely the ancient temples and amphitheatres, the last evidence of a race that had ruled by the sword and built an empire planet by planet until it had spread across the universe.

When the temples had been built, the future had been an open sea. Gallifrey had been ruled by seers who remembered the future as they remembered the past. Destiny was manifest, the bountiful cargo that filled the holds of a thousand thousand starships. The prophecies had been bound and bound up to be the charts used to circumnavigate infinity. Explorers travelled ever outward, apprised of the marvels they would find, aware of the dangers. Prospectors rushed to the stars, knowing where to look for gold. Heros took great risks, certain of the outcome. The future had shone as bright as the moon, and had been just as incorruptible."

-- The Infinity Doctors, by Lance Parkin (opening paragraphs)

Yes, the latter is a Doctor Who novel, but Lance Parkin has more style in his left hand than Alan Dean Foster has in his whole body.

Which is a pity, since the plot summaries of ADF's novels sound very interesting. They just don't seem to deliver.