Friday, December 21, 2018

Alan Dean Foster, Sentenced to Prism (1985)

Foster, Alan Dean. Sentenced to Prism. New York: Del Rey/Ballantine, September 1985

Sentenced to Prism at ISFdb
Sentenced to Prism at Goodreads

Rating:     7/10

Del Rey/Ballantine, 1985
As a pre-teen in the mid-1980s, I read a modest of amount of science fiction, and for a few years enjoyed the campy works of Alan Dean Foster. I read about thirty of his books published in the 1970s up until about 1990, including a number of the novelizations. The books are quick reads and I found them to be colourfully imaginative, though many I found, even at that time, to be quite dull (Cachalot and Voyage to the City of the Dead come to mind). Eventually I abandoned his works for more complex books, and soon stopped reading science fiction novels, aside from a book or two a year. Then a couple of weeks ago I was rummaging through my parents' basement and came across a number of his, and other science fiction authors', books. And reminiscing, I thought why not.

I picked up Sentenced to Prism, which, though I've owned for many years (bought for $2.25 at the local secondhand bookshop that no longer exists, so the markings on the first page inform me), I have never read. Perhaps it was the glaring yellow cover that kept it at bay, or most likely I got tired of Foster's books before I got around to this one. Proof of the latter are the handful more paperbacks of his I came across, which I've never opened up.

What I found with Sentenced to Prism was a pleasant surprise: an enjoyable novel despite the light writing, two-dimensional characters, and seemingly lack of depth. The novel deals with an arrogant company research man named Evan Orgell who is sent to a newly discovered planet, Prism, to uncover the fate of a research team which has stopped communicating with home base. Orgell soon learns what a unique planet this is, and, following many unusual dangers, meets up with some native species with whom he forms an alliance. More than the plot, and certainly more that the non-character of Orgell, who we follow throughout the bulk of the story (aside from a couple of glaring point of view shifts), what makes the read a compelling one is the planet and its various life forms. Foster has the reputation for creating interesting worlds and species, but I don't recall his work ever being this imaginative and immersive.

New English Library, 1988
In addition to the interesting world is the late development of some thematic links, which help to elevate the book in the last few chapters from being a simple plotted fare developed only for Foster's imaginings to a narrative that contains, though simplistically, a point. The notions of "Associatives," of community and collaboration, is brought full circle when Orgell and his new friends encounter an unusual, chaotic creature that has its own interpretation of what a community ought to be, and what it can achieve. Furthermore, the idea of the alien Associative challenges Orgell in his own understanding of the purpose of community. The novel fails in that Orgell is so under-developed (we are told endlessly that he is selfish and arrogant, yet since the moment he lands on the planet he appears to be selfless and to understand the importance of team-work in the face of survival), that there is no real transformation from human-thinking to embracing another culture. This is no Dances with Wolves, or say, Toy Story. It is instead a contrived novel that is oddly a pleasure to read.

For more of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.


Todd Mason said...

One definitely doesn't turn to Foster for depth, but slick entertainment he could deliver at times quite glibly. The first thing I read by him was in one of Harold Masur's ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: anthologies...I'm almost tempted to append, Of Course...

Casual Debris said...

That story is most likely "Pipe Dreams." Very different from what he normally writes.

Todd Mason said...

True. Or at least under his own name. "Pipe Dream," from AHMM, and in AHP: STORIES TO BE READ WITH THE DOOR LOCKED, the first hardcover AHP I bought (Doubleday Book Club edition).

Todd Mason said...

Harold Q. Masur had my number:
Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories to Be Read With the Door Locked

Introduction by Harold Q. Masur as by Alfred Hitchcock
Hijack by Robert L. Fish
Tomorrow and ... Tomorrow by Adobe James
Funeral in Another Town by Jerry Jacobson
A Case for Quiet by William Jeffrey
A Good Head for Murder by Charles W. Runyon
The Invisible Cat by Betty Ren Wright
Royal Jelly novelette by Roald Dahl
Light Verse by Isaac Asimov
The Distributor by Richard Matheson
How Henry J. Littlefinger Licked the Hippies' Scheme to Take Over the Country by Tossing Pot in Postage Stamp Glue by John Keefauver
The Leak by Jacques Futrelle
All the Sounds of Fear by Harlan Ellison
Little Foxes Sleep Warm by Waldo Carlton Wright
The Graft Is Green novelette by Harold Q. Masur
View by Moonlight by Patricia McGerr
There Hangs Death! by John D. MacDonald
Lincoln's Doctor's Son's Dog by Warner Law
Coyote Street by Gary Brandner
Zombique by Joseph Payne Brennan
The Pattern by Bill Pronzini
Pipe Dream by Alan Dean Foster
Shottle Bop novelette by Theodore Sturgeon
The Magnum by Jack Ritchie
Voices in the Dust by Gerald Kersh
The Odor of Melting by Edward D. Hoch
The Sound of Murder by William P. McGivern
The Income Tax Mystery by Michael Gilbert
Watch for It by Joseph N. Gores
The Affair of the Twisted Scarf novelette by Rex Stout

Path said...

Nice article as well as whole site.Thanks.

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