Fiction Reviews

The Deathworld Omnibus

(2019) Harry Harrison, Gollancz, £14.99, pbk, 569pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22837-5


Jason dinAlt is a gambler, known only to himself with something of an edge: there are times when he simply feels that he can win and so he does.  Consequently he is constantly on the move, never staying on one world long enough for casinos and gambling dens get wise.  But someone has apparently noticed as Jason gets a visitor from a powerfully built man with a super-fast draw of the gun.  The man gives Jason an offer he can barely refuse.  He is given a stake and has to win a specific large sum.  Anything Jason makes above that sum Jason can keep; fail to make that sum and the consequences will be terminal.  Jason accepts: he is not in a position to refuse.  The money, it transpires, is to by enough arms to start a small war.

However there are those that don't like the loss and Jason and his enforced partner have to go off-world fast.

Jason learns that the arms are needed by a small planetary colony on Pyrrus.  It seems that life – both plants and animals – on Pyrrus are literally at war with the colonists who are largely confined to bunker-like buildings.  But Jason discovers that it was not always like this and that there is a forgotten history of the settlement.  Further, the colonists are not contemplating the uncomfortable truth that they are slowly losing the battle of attrition…

The afore is the plot set-up for the first Deathworld novel (first published 1960, serialised in Astounding Science Fiction magazine).  This gives Jason dinAlt allies of the super soldier Pyrrus colonists in further adventures elsewhere.

Deathworld 2 (1964) sees Jason kidnapped ostensibly for Jason previous gambling 'crimes' but in actuality for the kidnapper's own nefarious purposes.

Deathworld 3 (1968) see Jason and some of his Pyrrus allies help colonise another world that has on it two regressed human cultures at war with each other.

This new Deathworld Omnibus from Gollancz brings these three novels together.

Fans of Harry Harrison may recognise elements of the Jason dinAlt protagonist in The Stainless Steel Rat, one Slippery Jim, alias James Bolivar diGriz.  Following the first Deathworld novel Harry began working on Stainless Steel Ratin parallel. Further, despite some inconsistencies, there are suggestions that the two series of adventures take place in the same universe.

The Deathworld novels are classic Harry Harrison.  While lacking the humour of The Stainless Steel Rat, they are typical in style and pace of many of his SF thriller adventures.  Each novel is also short by today's standards, though more typical of 1960s and '70s SF but this makes them ideal quick reads for a modern SF readership.  Also, note the 1960s '70s 'real-life 'Cold War' 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (mad) policy appear early on in the first novel which does set the time of its authorship.

The first Deathworld omnibus edition was published by Nelson Doubleday in 1968.  Over half a century on, it is good to see it in print once more.

Jonathan Cowie

See also Ian's take on The Deathworld Omnibus.


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