The novel “Strange Music” by Alan Dean Foster was published for the first time in 2017. It’s part of the Pip & Flinx series.
Flinx has been living with his girlfriend Clarity and obviously with Pip on the planet Cachalot for more than a year now when he receives the unexpected visit of Sylzenzuzex, a Thranx member of the United Church. This is not a courtesy visit because the Thranx explains that his help is needed for a very special mission on a backward planet that’s not part of the Commonwealth.
A problem emerged on the planet Largess, which has still limited relations with the Commonwealth although it may join it in the future. For the time being, advanced technologies are prohibited on Largess, but the presence of a human being who imported them has been reported. Officially, the Commonwealth can’t send anyone to capture the human but Flinx is a wanted man and the request for intervention comes from the United Church. The mission turns out to be really complex because the natives use a sung language and unexpected events might endanger it.
Alan Dean Foster started writing his stories set in the Humanx Commonwealth universe in the early 1970s and from the beginning Flinx was one of the most important characters with a series about his adventures. It seemed that that series had ended with the completion of a great story-arc and Flinx could finally live a quiet life and even get bored together with his girlfriend Clarity and the minidrag Pip on the planet Cachalot. Instead, after a few years, the author wrote a new Pip & Flinx novel in which the two of them live a new adventure.
At the beginning of “Strange Music” Flinx lives a quiet life but must keep a low profile because he’s still wanted by the Commonwealth. However, he has some important friends including some Thranx who keep the secrecy about him and for this reason he’s contacted to carry out an absolutely unofficial mission requested through the United Church.
Despite his situation with the Commonwealth authorities, Flinx decides to accept the request and leaves with Pip for the planet Largess. The reader must know the previous adventures of the protagonists to understand why Flinx is in possession of a very advanced starship equipped with an artificial intelligence because in “Strange Music” a lot is taken for granted. In this novel, it’s used for the protagonists’ journey but most of the story is set on Largess, where Flinx has to use his mental powers. In this case Alan Dean Foster offers enough information to allow even the readers who don’t know this character to have at least a general idea of his powers.
Over the years, Flinx’s mental powers have increased but on the planet Largess he realizes that they work only partially on the natives. They use singspeech, a sung language, and Flinx can only perceive their emotions when they’re not singing. That’s an important limitation that increases the mission’s difficulty and therefore a way to prevent him from easily understanding who among the natives is hostile to him and who is a potential ally instead.
The idea of a sung language is potentially interesting, but frankly it seemed to me that in its written form it fails to realize it because reading the dialogues I can’t think of them as a song. The phrasing very often reaminds of Yoda’s way of speaking and this characteristic tended to distract me.
In general, “Strange Music” seemed to me a pleasant planetary adventure in which Flinx is facing unexpected events and dangers on the planet Largess. The powerful local lords, with their agendas and ambitions, are only one of the problems for Flinx. Alan Dean Foster is a writer who has decades of experience and can easily write stories of this type, but honestly it’s a novel that is above all adventurous. It doesn’t have the grandeur of the previous story-arc of the cycle about this character and without the depth of some of the previous novels in which Flinx discovered something important about himself.
In the end, “Strange Music” seems like a pleasant return to the adventures of Pip & Flinx but nothing more. For this reason, fans of the Humanx Commonwealth Universe and readers who appreciate planetary adventures without complications might like it.