Flinx in Flux (1988) Book Review and Analysis
By Alan Dean Foster
I will start this by saying Alan Dean Foster is one of my favourite authors!
Unfortunately, this was a rather hum-drum adventure for Flinx and Pip. It's #6 in the series, but I skipped Bloodhype (f0r now) as it's chronologically out of order.
In this novel, Flinx, now nineteen, is visiting the planet Alaspain to drop off Pip’s babies. Upon returning, he stumbles upon an unconscious and beaten-up woman near the river. He rescues her from the jungle and escorts her to the planet LongTunnel, where she is a bio-engineer. While there, he wrestles with his feelings for her as well as the eco-terrorists who kidnapped her in the first place and are back to attack the facility.
While packed with the typical in-depth world-building that I love about Alan Dean Foster novels, the plot and characters in this book left much to be desired. My favourite parts about any ADF novel are his aliens - they’re always developed with such detail they feel like they actually exist in our universe. He’s always been an inspiration of mine when it comes to creating alien races.
Yet, his humans, at least in this book, are a little dry. Flinx was much more interesting when he was a young teenager learning his place in the universe. Now, he’s nineteen, but he carries on as if he were a fifty-year-old man. It doesn’t feel like he changes much over the novel - love (if that's what it was) should have softened or hardened him, or had some effect on him. But, as they had no chemistry whatsoever, I felt like Clarity was a passing interest he'll forget in a week. This could also be because she has no personality and contributes nothing to the plot aside from needing rescue/protection.
Yet, it’s easy to read. ADF excels, as usual, at describing aliens and alien worlds with such detail and creativity. Maybe that’s my main issue with this novel - most of it takes place inside a cave, or on a Terran colony, where there are no aliens or cool cultures to learn about. Flinx, when he’s just mulling over his family history, is kind of a buzzkill. And while he is full of doubt, his precociousness gets irritating quickly.
The novel also conflates eco-terrorism with those who are against genetic manipulation, which doesn't get enough attention.
Overall, 3 / 5 Longtunnels
Analysis - Here be Spoilers
What’s interesting about how women are approached in this novel is that it’s both progressive (for the 1980s) and egregiously typical for the time period.
What I thought was great was how there were many women dotting the landscape, and not in just domestic roles. The main antagonist (Vandervort) is a woman, as are two of the leaders of the eco-terrorists, plus various other security guards, scientists, the women at the bar at the start, and etc. Lots of women in STEM! All of the women we meet are capable and serve to show that women exist in this universe, unlike in our movies today, where crowd scenes with more than 17% women in them are perceived as "unrealistic".
Yet, while Clarity is intelligent, well-spoken, has a job, and has aspirations, she falls into the trap of “the beautiful scientist.” This is a trope commonly seen in 70s-90s horror/action books/movies. Often this media will have the male hero paired with a woman who is both abnormally beautiful and not just intelligent, but brilliant. Sometimes, this woman becomes the secondary main character, but, most often she, while not disparaged for her gender/sex and usually contributes to solving the main problem in the movie, is still eye-candy; she has less background, less of an arc, and often still a prize for the hero for a job well done. It’s as if the writer/director said, “well, she’s smart - that’s progressive!”
While Clarity is a bit more well-rounded than that, she is hardly well-developed. We don’t learn anything about her other than she is a brilliant genetic engineer ("gengineer"). We don’t learn about her hobbies, past relationships, her actual age, or anything about her childhood. Sure, she has a fear of the dark, but that felt like a way to make her dependent on Flinx (yet again).
Clarity also adds nothing to the plot aside from her initial rescue. She didn’t even need to be at the end of the novel as Flinx saves himself. She could have died in the eco-terrorist attack before they even got in the caves, and nothing would have changed. Flinx does everything for her in the tunnel.
I was actually surprised when Flinx rescued himself from Vandervort at the end because I assumed there would be some parity and Clarity would rescue him for once. But no, she’s there but does shit all. It was very frustrating.
In this way she is more like a 50s/60s “heroine” than even one from the 80s - she is there not as a character we learn to care about, but as a foil for Flinx, as a way to further his story and character development.