Review: Midworld

“A few, less constrained by pride and more resilient, survived and had children. Their offspring grew up with no illusions about the supremacy of humankind or anykind. They matured and observed the world around them through different eyes. Roll the log. Give and take. Bend with the wind. Adapt, adapt, adapt …!” ~ Alan Dean Foster, Midworld

Midworld by Alan Dean Foster
179 pages
Published by Ballantine Books, 1975
Genre: Fantasy
Re-readability: I won’t be revisiting this one.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Reviewed by Pete
Spoiler-free review

I’ve seen Alan Dean Foster’s name on the sci-fi shelves for years, and it sounds like he’s still writing well-received works. This was my introduction, and I don’t know if it was the best pick.

A fleet of human ships crash landed on a sprawling jungle planet rich with a variety of dangerous life. Generations later, the descendents of this crew have forgotten their origins and made a new life in harmony with the plants and creatures of the forest. They live in the middle of the canopy, as far as possible from the creatures of the lower and upper “hells.”

When a brave fighter named Born comes across a pair of humans who recently crash-landed a ship of their own, he decides to save them, though he realizes his people may disapprove of his decision. When the strangers need an escort to return to their distant base, Born is the only one brave enough to accompany them.

You can probably guess what some of the themes of this book are: western culture vs. indigenous people, man vs. nature, etc. The strangers describe Born and his people as savages, and I never got the sense that Foster disagreed with this label. It made me feel a bit awkward, especially since Born’s community had made so many significant discoveries about the biology of their planet. They may have lived without advanced technology, but their lives were extremely sophisticated in how they adapted to their environment.

Though this is a short book, its plot is the “long walk” so common in fantasy and sci-fi. This was a dull way to show us an otherwise interesting and unique world. The characters would walk through the tree branches until—surprise!—a beast appears and Born saves the strangers despite their protesting that they were never in danger. This happens again and again, unnecessarily driving home the keystone of their relationship: the strangers doubt Born’s knowledge and skill, but he knows the jungle better than they do.

Without spoiling the ending, I will say that it both surprised and disappointed me. Midworld could have made an interesting short story—but even then, its major themes and conflict would need some work.

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