Sentenced to Prism (Humanx Commonwealth, #12)

By Alan Dean Foster

Rating: 4 stars

Evan Orgell is a fixer for his company: he gets sent in to Deal With Things when they go wrong. And now they’ve got a planet that they’re trying to illegally open up for exploitation that’s gone out of contact, so they send Orgell in, equipped with the latest in survival suit technology. What he finds is beyond his imagination and that of the designers of his oh so marvellous suit.

I first read this as a teenager, finding it in the local library, when I was hoovering up whatever sci-fi they had. I loved it for the imagination and cool aliens. Rereading it, I find it a bit clunky, and I’m less taken with the protagonist, but the alien world of Prism is still a magnificent creation. Full of silicon-based life forms, some of the descriptions fall into full-blown horror, as almost everything he meets wants his tasty, tasty rare earth minerals. Orgell is described as an arrogant generalist, very intelligent and able to integrate lots of new knowledge. This is undermined by his actions in the book, where he does display the described arrogance, but less of the intelligence.

The central theme of the book is our over-reliance on technology. That is Orgell’s early undoing, that he assumes that his suit will be able to overcome anything that the alien world can throw at it. He obviously learns this isn’t true, but he unlearns this reliance on technology surprisingly quickly. There’s also discussion about exploitation of natural resources and new lands – bringing to mind how colonisation fared in our world, from the arrival of Europeans in the New World, to the 19th century European empires that decimated cultures around the world.

There’s a lot packed into a book of under 300 pages and while the writing can be a bit clunky, and the protagonist irritating, the plot is sound, the worldbuilding is great and the ecosystem of Prism very neatly thought out.

Book details

ISBN: 9780345319807
Year of publication: 1985

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