Review of Deathworld 2 by Harry Harrison

June 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Deathworld2 by Harry HarrisonDeathworld 2: The Ethical Engineer
By Harry Harrison; Performed by Jim Roberts
Publisher: Brilliance Audio4 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / gambler / psionic abilities / planetary worlds / planetary colonists / slavery /

Publisher summary:

In the first Deathworld, wily interstellar gambler Jason dinAlt managed to survive on Pyrrus, a planet that seemed to be at war with its own people. He also stopped a deadly feud between two groups of those people. In the second volume of this trilogy, Jason finds that keeping the peace is even more difficult than ending the war. He is also becoming increasingly annoyed with the superior attitude of the natives, including his girlfriend, and this leads to his taking a very big chance. He allows himself to be arrested and taken away from the planet to show that he can take care of himself. He soon regrets that decision after crashing on a planet where the people are quite primitive and he is made a slave. Now he just wants to escape and get back to Pyrrus, but finds that it takes all his cunning and physical prowess just to stay alive. Harry Harrison gives us another fast-paced yet surprisingly thought-provoking story in Deathword 2: The Ethical Engineer.

Deathworld 2: The Ethical Engineer is the second in Harry Harrison’s Deathworld trilogy, which follows the interplanetary adventures of professional gambler Jason din’Alt. Although the plot picks up pretty soon after the first book left off, it doesn’t feel like a sequel as much as an interlude from the Pyrran saga. There is very little to link the two books other than the presence of the protagonist who is immediately taken off world away from the characters of the first book. However, the story itself is full of pulp fiction-y goodness and centers on a brand new, slightly less deadly world. A primitive world that seems to have regressed since it’s initial colonization, a majority of the people are slaves to brutal tribal chiefs who lead a never ending search for food in a barren wasteland. The more powerful chiefs, as uneducated and greedy as their people, each own one aspect of the technology that remains from more advanced times. But their refusal to work together has left the world with limited resources and a stagnated intelligence. A possible commentary on the dangers of rigid corporatism, the world structure explores a backward approach to invention that deconstructs advanced ideas into their most rudimentary parts, much to their detriment.

This sort of simplistic, one-dimensional thinking also plays into Jason’s new antagonist Mikah who is a member of some sort of universal police force that imposes a very strict moral code on everyone around them. He sees life in perfectly defined right and wrongs with no room for the moral relativism Jason is so fond of indulging in. Initially arresting Jason because of his gambling, he spends most of the book in mortal danger due to his refusal to bend his moral code and frequently hampers Jason’s attempts to rescue him for the same reason. His frustrating behavior quickly makes Mikah into one of the most annoying characters ever conceived and I spent most of the book wishing Jason would just leave him behind. In most respects, Mikah acts like a robot with no capacity to learn, change, develop, or understand anything not in his original programming, so that even though he is ideologically opposed to Jason, he’s not a very interesting adversary.

Jason, on the other hand, actually manages to both develop and regress in this book. In addition to a knowledge of gambling and weapons and his psionic powers (none of which he uses in this story), we find out he is rather conveniently a skilled mechanic and electrician. Unlike this last book, he actually has a good reason to be entangled in this plot since it was a consequence of his lifestyle choices but by ignoring his psionic powers which were so vastly important before, he was become a more generic character. This isn’t helped by the fact that exposure to the morally upright Mikah has no more effect of him than he does on Mikah. In the end, nothing has really changed except for the bloody wars he probably will have left behind him.

As far as the audio goes, it is the same wooden narrator as the first book and so not one I would recommend. But overall, it’s the kind of enjoyable light reading meant for a rainy afternoon and is short enough that it won’t take you much longer.

Posted by Rose D.

Review of Deathworld by Harry Harrison

May 31, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

By Harry Harrison; Read by Jim Roberts
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
6 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / gambler / psionic abilities / planetary worlds / planetary colonists /

Publisher summary:

Professional gambler Jason dinAlt, who has ‘psionic’ abilities, is hired to win a great deal of money for a mysterious and very imposing stranger. When he ‘breaks the bank’ their expertly timed escape gets them off-world just in time. The gambler learns he has helped the dwellers of Pyrrus, otherwise known as ‘Deathworld’ – a planet that appears to be fighting and trying to destroy its inhabitants. Intrigued, he determines to see this world and learn its secrets. He discovers that there are colonists who live outside the embattled city who are not under constant and ever evolving attack from the planet. Jason’s efforts to help the city dwellers and re-unite the two planetary groups before they are all destroyed makes for a gripping listen.

Deathworld is one of Harry Harrison’s early books written in the finest tradition of the pulps with a forced romance and a flimsy excuse, but highly entertaining nevertheless. Jason dinAlt, the psionic gambler with a heart of gold, decides to go the the deadliest known planet in the universe due to a fit of malaise and stays there in spite of a rather tedious training period (made more enjoyable if you imagine Eye of the Tiger playing in the background). However, once he gets released into the general population, the mystery of Pyrrus picks up and it’s certainly a mystery I never suspected.

Pyrrus itself, presumably named after the war of attrition being fought there, is a dreadful world where even the plants can kill you, but the ingenuity of the planet’s lethalness and the two societies it has created are a nice backdrop to the adventure plot. Our exposure to the wildlife is more limited than I’d like with the focus being on the warfare instead. The relationship between the aptly named Junkmen and Grubbers is much more developed and is one of the most interesting elements of the story. Their mutual hostility reflects the tension between industrialism and agrarianism that is always prevalent in developing civilizations.

The characters themselves are mostly flat and underdeveloped, everyone according to their role and no more. Meta, Jason’s love interest, is especially annoying to me, though that may have been because of the complete lack of chemistry between her and Jason. She feels like a perfunctory character whose actions and reactions are dictated by the needs of the story rather than any sort of internal motivation. Jason, too, doesn’t have much a character arc (although I trust he isn’t as bored by the end as he was before Pyrrus). As a gambler he’s willing to put his life on the line for a hunch but his investment in the fate of the world is never fully explained beyond a general sense of goodwill. Still, what is character development in the face of carnivorous plants, poisonous animals, murderous bacteria, and the perpetual threat of volcanic eruptions? I’m not going to read a book called Deathworld for characters talking about their feelings.

Should you feel inclined to listen to this book, I don’t recommend this audiobook. The narrator, a Mr. Jim Roberts, was flat, boring and completely wrong for the tough characters and fast-paced action. It felt like I was being read to by a New York accountant, a well-meaning but unsuccessful uncle. The characters all sound the same and no attempt is made to put emotion into them. With a story like this, the right narration can really make or break it. I’d recommend either reading the book yourself or finding another version of the audiobook.

Posted by Rose D.