Sunday, October 9, 2016

Quozl - Alan Dean Foster

   1989; 344 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Science Fiction; First Contact; Satire. Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    For the interplanetary travelers aboard the settlement spaceship Sequester, it’s been a long, long journey from their home planet, Quozlene.  In fact, this is now the sixth generation that’s spent their entire life on the Sequester.  But at last their destination is in sight, a planet they’ve named Shiraz, and which long ago their scientists determined might support Quozl life.

    The good news is that more detailed observation from the Sequester detects abundant life on Shiraz.  There’s plenty of water, and lush plant life on a pair of supercontinents.  There’s even lots of trees, and the Quozl revere wood.

    The bad news is that animal life has been detected as well.  Sentient beings.  With powerful weapons and a proclivity for ceaseless, intertribal warfare.  This is quite a shock, since up until now, the Quozl had assumed they were the only intelligent species in the universe.

    Hmm.  I wonder if Shiraz is a planet we’re familiar with.

What’s To Like...
    Alan Dean Foster does a fabulous job of building a detailed picture of Quozl society.  The book cover shown above gives a good rendition of their physical characteristics, and the concept of bipedal, human-sized, sentient rabbits is certainly refreshingly innovative in the sci-fi genre.  Quozl are heavily into meditation, ritual and ersatz combat (they have long since transcended their warlike ways), apologizing profusely for almost everything, and of course, as all rabbits are wont to do, coupling.  The first half of the book is set in the wilds of Idaho; the second half moves down to sunny California.

    There are a slew of Quozl to meet, and they all have three-part names, such as Looks-at-Charts, Stands-while-Sitting, etc.  The book also comes with a “flip-a-mation” cartoon sequence in the upper right-hand corner of the pages.  I haven’t seen one of those in a book since I was a kid.  There’s a smattering of cussing, and of course, a lot of coupling; but none of this is in any way lewd.  I liked the Disneyland goons; you really don’t want to run afoul of their legal department.

    The book cover made me think this was going to be a barrel-of-laughs tale.  It isn’t.  There is satire throughout, and some the tone is for the most part light-hearted.  But some characters get killed, and others die from natural causes; the latter due to timespan of the book – a human lifespan or a couple Quozl lifespans. I am still not sure who the target audience is.

    Beyond all the satire and silliness, Quozl tackles some serious themes, among which are maintaining the environment, xenophobia, and the US Immigration policy.  The ending gets a bit preachy in this regard, but the epilogue (the final chapter) leaves the reader with a nice twist.  This is the second book I’ve read recently where a society under extreme stress (in this case, the Quozl) adopt a “hive mentality” in order to cope .  The other book with this motif is reviewed here.

 Kewlest New Word...
Xenologist (n.) : a person engaged in the scientific study of alien biology, cultures, etc.  (chiefly in science fiction)
Others : Sybaritic (adj.); Philology (n.).

    “You called me what?”
    “A Shirazian.  That is our name for your world.”
    “Kinda nice.”  Chad rolled the alien sounds around his tongue.  “Has more flavor than ‘Earth.’”
    “You must not think very much of your world to call it dirt.”  (pg. 171)

    There were some problems with certain religious groups.  After all, if God had made man in his own image, where did that put the Quozl, who were clearly at least as intelligent as any human?  The debate was not restricted to one side of the relationship, for certain Quozl philosophers had difficulty accepting the fact that not only weren’t the Quozl not the only intelligent creatures in the universe, the other ones were bald giants with tiny eyes and nonexistent ears and feet.  (pg. 333)

 “One can plan forever, but individuals make fools of us all.”  (pg. 504)
    There are a couple quibbles.  First, the pacing for me was incredibly slow for much of the book.  We’re fifty pages through the book before touchdown on Shiraz, and except for a brief (and inconsequential!) bit of violence soon thereafter, the reader has to wait until a third of the way through Quozl before “first contact” is made.

    Second, there’s very little action and intrigue in the storyline,  so for the most part, we’re left with drama.  The excitement is limited to things like Looks being late for a rendezvous, or Chad needing to sweet-talk his parents into letting him camp out in the wilds overnight.  This may work for readers who like Marley and Me, but not for those looking for a thrilling sci-fi tale featuring first encounters with extraterrestrials.

    The pace does pick up once the setting moves to Los Angeles, and it becomes positively frenetic towards the end, as the Quozl become assimilated into the world societies.  To me, that would have been the more interesting part of the tale.  It was almost as if Alan Dean Foster had planned to make this Book 1 of a series, and then decided after writing most of the book to instead just make it a standalone.

    7 Stars.  Alan Dean Foster is a prolific sci-fi writer, best known as the author of the novelization of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  I’ve been meaning to pick up one of his books for quite some time now.  Perhaps I just selected one of his lesser efforts.  Quozl was an okay read, but it won't keep you up late at night reading "just one more chapter".

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