This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue. It was properly credited in that issue’s Table of Contents, but not at the beginning of the article itself.
Deathworld 3. Harry Harrison.
Original Publication: 1968.
Current Availability: Out of Print.
Shannon Appelcline established a useful goal in his series of reviews that have previously appeared in this section of Critics’ Corner. However, there are only a limited number of books that truly have the sort of direct connection to Traveller that Shannon used in choosing which books to review. I felt that there were more than a few stories that, while having no discernible direct connection with Traveller, nevertheless felt—at least to me—like they could happen in a Traveller universe, even if not the Official one. Deathworld 3 is one such book.
As implied by the title, this is actually the third book of the series. The first establishes background information for the main protagonist, Jason DinAlt, and the inhabitants of the planet Pyrrus. While an entertaining read, it’s not strictly necessary to have read it before reading this book; all you need to know is that the world of Pyrrus is a nasty place, and the average Pyrran is faster, tougher, meaner than above-average inhabitants of pretty much any other world. In other words, Pyrrans are, well, PCs. And probably Mary-Sue/Marty-Stu PCs, at that. And so is Jason, who has proven himself tough enough to survive Pyrrus, even though he’s nowhere near as tough as the natives. The second book in the series is essentially a solo adventure by Jason, with some social setups that just stretch my Willing Suspension of Disbelief a little bit too far.
The planet Felicity is home to two mutually-hostile cultures: a nomadic one on the high steppe, and an agrarian, town-dwelling one in the lowlands beneath the cliffs. The John Company has recently been driven off the world by the nomads, after trying to establish mining facilities on the steppe, where there is much potential mineral wealth. The nomadic lifestyle, and its opposition to any sort of permanent structures or camps, is essentially religious in its intensity, and fueled their opposition to the John Company.
Jason and a select group of Pyrrans propose to succeed where the John Company has failed. They start by attempting to infiltrate the nomads, who are recently united under a warlord similar to Genghis Khan (and whose name is, in fact, Temujin). Their ultimate objective is to take control of the nomads from Temujin, and eventually soften the opposition to mining. Jason—and by extension, his ‘tribe’ of Pyrrans—is found to be an outworlder, and is tossed, supposedly to his death, into a deep cave/crevasse. Unknown to the nomads, he survives, and the cave/crevasse proves to have an exit to the lowlands.
A parallel program to infiltrate the agrarian lowland culture also seems to have had results inferior to what was hoped. After discussing both programs with the remaining Pyrrans, Jason formulates a plan to give Temujin what he says he wants—domination over both the nomads and the lowlanders. He then appears to Temujin, who, in spite of Jason’s denials, believes Jason to be a demon, and tells Temujin about the cave being a tunnel to the lowlands. With that knowledge, Temujin is able to invade and dominate the lowlands, but at the end realizes that in winning, he loses.
Harrison wrote the entire Deathworld series in a third-person limited viewpoint; we see and know only those things that Jason DinAlt does. It’s rare that any sort of ‘infodumping’ is needed; when it is, it’s done as reasonable in-story exposition. The small amount of ‘as you know, Bob’ exposition is set up so that the ostensibly known facts are laid out (by Jason) as the groundwork for a new interpretation/viewpoint, not obvious to the native Pyrrans. Often, Jason doesn’t give all the details or his complete intent (and Harrison doesn’t reveal it to the reader, either), but just enough to keep the plan (and the plot and story) moving.
Why is it Traveller?
You have a party of unabashed PCs, doing a job with no actual expectation of personal gain (the payoff will go for maintaining the colony on Pyrrus). They have limited resources, and at least half the party thinks that going in with guns blazing is the “right” answer—but it’s also unaffordable when fully analyzed. There’s espionage, backstabbing, subterfuge, Pyrrhic victory,… all the sorts of things you would expect to find in a good adventure arc.
A good, entertaining read. If you can find this sadly out-of-print book, or the equally out-of-print Deathworld Trilogy omnibus, grab it.