Deathworld (Harrison)

Deathworld - Harry Harrison

If ever you needed convincing that "classic" science fiction, as published in the various periodicals in the mid 20th-century, was a guy's game, you'd only need to read this. Even while it posits the need for a peaceful resolution on a planet where nature itself is rising up against the colonizers, the story revels in its endless battles. What's more, there's exactly one woman on the whole planet, it seems (her name is Meta) and though she's portrayed as being skilled and gutsy, there's no question of her having any sort of real agency (and while she's not as objectified and hypersexualized as, say, the women in Heinlein, she's certainly the product of a straight male imagination).

 

I would be more inclined to be generous and give a third star if the writing were not so irritatingly flawed. The sentence fragments and comma splices are not in any way artfully deployed; clearly they were just bad habits. It gets very wearing after a few chapters.

 

That said, the story was reasonably well spun out, and if it seemed a bit predictable that's doubtless because so many of these early stories have turned into tropes in the intervening half century. There was some attempt to be thoughtful about the notion of the relation of colonizers and their colonized environment (if you go in slashing, don't be surprised if you meet a hostile response).

 

I must admit I did chuckle at the occasional place where imagination stopped short of current reality (there seemed to be a certain tendency to turn the results of computer processing into paper, for instance!). But you can see that this story was based in the same excitement about space, and about associated technologies such as medical instruments, that informed the first round of Star Trek. I can completely understand that for the original and intended audience (men who were young in the 60s), there would be an enormous nostalgic pull in this novel.