Review of PLANET OF THE DAMNED by Harry Harrison
Brion has never really considered leaving his native planet--he, like the rest of the planet, is caught up in 'the twenties,' the planet-wide game designed to select the very best the planet has to offer. But when a former winner breaks into his hospital room and demands that Brion accompany him--finally convincing him that human life on another planet stands in the balance, Brion heads into the unknown.
A thousand years in space have evolved the human species in a number of directions, but on the planet Dis, long cut off from space travel, evolution took a dramatic and extreme turn. The locals don't trust anyone from off the planet, have developed symbiotic relationships with native species, and survive in a world that seems closer to hell than anything that ever should have been settled. Accompanied by former twenties winner Ihjel, and Earth-born scientist Lea, Brion travels to Dis where, he learns, natives have gotten their hands on cobalt bombs and threaten to destroy a neighboring planet unless the other planet surrenders unconditionally. Unless Brion can neutralize the threat, Dis will be destroyed.
Author Harry Harrison (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Harrison) combines adventure, intriguing speculation into how humans will survive in a hostile universe, and a surprisingly amount of moral complexity into a fast-paced space opera. Brion, with his highly developed empathy and the physical skills honed by a lifetime training for the twenties, makes for a sympathetic protagonist. Harrison's world-building is in good form, and his writing is engaging and hard to put down.
Reading older science fiction is always an adventure. SF authors often seem to anticipate that their world will continue, as-is, with the exception of new vehicles. Harrison doesn't fall into this trap, but Lea, Brion's love-interest, certainly adopts a number of 1950s sex-role stereotypes that seem quite dated today. Harrison's accomplishments in this story certainly don't revolve around technology (or sociological forecasting) but in posing moral questions that certainly do stand the test of time.
PLANET OF THE DAMNED was a 1962 Hugo Nominee. It's still an enjoyable read.
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