. . . Or should I say, the nature of good tales? There’s plenty of the same old predictable stuff coming out between new covers. Fortunately, there are also exceptions. Jane Palmer’s first novel is a real find -definitely a specimen of higher lunacy. The Planet Dweller (Women’s Press,£1.95) appropriates all the furniture of TV sci-fi and duly stands it on its head, with a wonderfully pragmatic absurdity - that’s been done before, of course (Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams), but not quite this way. How characters quite as insane as these - menopausal Diana and the radio-astronomer Eva, 11-year-old Julia, and the drunken Russian eccentric, Yuri - turn out to be as plausible as anyone you’d find in the average bus-queue, I do not know; but at one time or another I’ve met all these people. Real people are always more incredible than fiction likes to think...
Diana and her associates face the impossible, here, with imperturbable (okay, occasionally perturbable) common sense. It’s no more odd to keep a museum of ancient architecture (Diana) or a radio-telescope (Eva) than discern the end of the world (Yuri). Fairy rings and travels to dying galaxies are all in the line of business, as are the Mott—empire-builders who took over evolution’s plans for their species, with less than satisfactory results:
"They have the most incredible anatomy.... Designed themselves an extra pair of legs and protruding teeth because they thought it would put the fear of demons into whoever they took it into their minds to invade. Did that all right, but now they have to eat through a straw and have trouble finding where it comes out the other end."
There’s Dax and Reniola, who’ve borrowed bodies (not human) and have, while attempting to save the world, some difficulty in coping with being merely mortal. The world in question is Moosevan, intimately connected with Earth. Moosevan is being surrounded by a space-warping field by Kulp - Kulp being toad-like and green, or rather, toad-like and pink (courtesy of Dax - the original Dax, that is) which is currently pissing him off no end. Yuri is on Moosevan and in love with something female and ninety thousand million years old. Do you follow all that? No? Good. Then you’ll have to read the book, and find out what the thoroughly satisfying conclusion is.
Mary Gentle Interzone
A hilarious story in which the Earth is threatened by the deadliest life-form in the universe: the Mott. Diana, a menopausal mother, and Yuri, a practised drunk, are the two humans destined to fight them. They do have some help in the form of Dax and Reniola a pair of Torrons; uncomfortable in their new bodies they are eager if incompetent allies.
The ‘familiar’ voice - if their is one - should surely be credited to Jane Palmer, whose first novel ‘The Planet Dweller’ brings a much-needed note of sanity into the launch. Palmer has more in common with Muriel Spark than Marge Piercy. Her alien invasion of Earth takes place among the kind of people who cause havoc at the supermarket checkout. She also, with deft comedy, creates a Feminist who’s literally the size of a planet, and that is a daunting prospect...
Jane Solanas Time Out
Jane Palmer’s novel, The Planet Dweller quite unashamedly a good sci-fi adventure, is really the odd one out. It draws most on the traditional ‘adventure’ strand of science fiction and quite cleverly weaves together all the ingredients for a good read. The planet Earth is under threat, unsuspected by all except one exiled Russian living in rural England. Alien species draw battle lines in the fight for a planet’s resources and inadvertently, our main characters — a housewife and the exiled Russian — get drawn into the fray. There is a large fantasy element whereby the human characters get transposed to alien settings and half participate half observe the frenetic goings-on. The Russian falls in love with a doomed female passionate planet. The housewife plays a major part in frustrating the plans of the baddie aliens. The action is always changing and full of zest, and the main difference between this novel and other ‘male’ sci fi is the central role of the female characters. These characters are very stylised, and recognisable ‘types’, no attempt is made to radicalise the thoughts and actions of the women. But, they act, rather than be acted upon (the usual sci-fi role for women).
Liz Adams Chartist
The Planet Dweller is a much more traditionally sf novel, and also funny in a Tom Sharpe/Douglas Adams sort of way:
He was well aware of the procedure the Mott had for court martials. The main thing that made them different from any other species’ was that the defendant was executed before the trial began. To their way of thinking this was more efficient, because they could always be found guilty on the grounds that they had failed to give evidence in their defence.
In another galaxy lives the Planet a being living inside a planet, a being dependent on it. The Mott wish to prise the Planet Dweller, whose name is Moosevan, from her home as part of their plan of galactic conquest. Moosevan’s ‘escape-route’ would cause the destruction of Earth. While the Mott and their Olmuke allies scheme to destroy Moosevan’s planet, two shapechanging aliens attempt to get her through the escape route, and. Moosevan and her two Earthly allies try to make them think up a third alternative which would allow Moosevan and Earthpeople to live.
The Planet Dweller is the most easily readable of the four books, involving no noticeable shortforms. Anything even slightly scientific is explained in a no-lecturing manner, and if there is a feminist message, I can’t see it. Admittedly, most of the goodguys are female and most of the badguys are male, but this is not immediately obvious to the casual reader. There are some strange resonances with previous works of sf. Moosevan, as I said, is a life form living on a planet and dependent on it. She meets a human male and falls in love with him. Like the ‘Companion’ in the Star Trek episode ‘Metamorphosis’. Or consider the description of the Mott:
Genetic engineers decided to take over when nature didn’t want anything more to do with them.
Compare it with:
The forces of evolution had simply given up on them... they never evolved again: they should never have survived - what nature refused to do for them they simply did without until such time as they were able to rectify the grosser anatomical inconveniences with surgery. (Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy)
The Wanderground is quite different. Both books are loosely based around an animate planet, both have several viewpoint characters, but they go about it in different ways. The Planet Dweller manages to introduce several viewpoint characters without it being noticeable, where Wanderground is like a fixup of short stories, each with a different character, which can be very jarring. Moosevan sits and waits to be rescued, while Earth takes active steps to ensure survival.
Jane Palmer’s first novel The Planet Dweller comically (and Britishly) juxtaposes menopausal female reality with a farcical chauvinist SF subplot about the Molt and their plan to rule the galaxy.
The only first publication is also the only British one, Jane Palmer’s The Planet Dweller, and it is a world away from the American novels. For one thing it is not a university product (Gearhart, besides singing bass in a lesbian-feminist barbershop quartet, teaches Communication in San Francisco); for another it seeks to entertain. The heroine, Diana Spalding. is suffering from hot flushes and hearing voices.
It turns out the voices are real enough and come from Moosevan, an intelligent and rather a kindly planet. She is whisked away there, providentially saves the earth, thwarts the evil designs of the Mott (a nasty a piece of work - slit eye, trio of tusks, four wide short legs), and coincidentally is cured of her hot flushes: The Planet Dweller has more in common with Dr Who than with American theological feminism, including a sense of humour.
David Sexton Sunday Times
Jane Palmer spins a confused but amusing tale of earth menaced by extragalactic baddies. Her heroine, Diana, a menopausal housewife and administrator of an architectural museum, is original, sympatico and fun.
Sunday Times SupplementUnfortunately I couldn't find a decent synopsis on the web, probably because it's out-of-print. It was published by The Women's Press, which published a fair selection of high-quality science fiction written by women, both with and without a feminist message. I think this is a great, funny book, with a nice underlying message, and the underdog wins out in the end. The Mott, the most greedy and power-mad species in the universe (very aggressive and not too bright, with no moral sense beyond their own narrow interests, but with the biggest and nastiest toys; remind you of anyone?) are searching for new worlds to possess. They have enlisted the help of the genetically engineered and psychopathic mad genius Kulp (who is an Olmuke; the Olmuke are almost as nasty as the Mott but with much less mean toys). They have decided to conquer Earth. Two unlikely characters must stop them - Diana (a middle-aged mother who hears voices) and Yuri (a rarely sober Russian scientist). The 'Planet Dweller' of the title is Moosevan, a benevolent superbeing who possesses the planet Earth, and who has developed a crush on Yuri. Other important characters are the Old Ones, ethereal superbeings who can possess the bodies of other creatures; they live in another galaxy and are many millions of years old, but have been summoned to help save the day by the Torrans, a species of basically benevolent cat-like aliens. I like this book a lot because it's very funny and is not too polemical; the characters and different species are quite well built up too. There is a twist in the plot at the end, when the Old Ones teach Kulp the better side of his nature (which had been suppressed by generations of genetic engineering) and he joins the resistance. Basically, power and technology do not add up to enlightenment; but good wins out in the end. A good read.
Steven Green, Nutcote