Swampworld West by Perry A. Chapdelaine
Published by Coronet ISBN13: 9780340208144
There is an illusion of vast emptiness almost everywhere on Swampworld. But no sooner has that void engulfed the eye and the heart than the salt marsh comes vividly alive with the rustle and flutter and gurgle of life: fish, insects, small mammals crawling on land-strips, scuttling shell life, sucking soft life. All thrive in this lacework of needle-pointed grass-green, where the northeast winds whip down through the swamp grass and stir among stark reminders of the hourly struggle for survival: breached skeletons, grinning and eyeless skulls, shredded dry strands across fast growing reeds.
Always there is the whisper of wind as green needle point scratches needle point, bringing the illusion of global surf to human ear, and at the same time there is a cleansing of organic rot as biology and chemistry join forces, permitting fresh, vigorous life to consumate the sharing and re-distribution of molecular wealth.
I was in the market for some old-school scifi and found this battered paperback which seemed to fit the billI'll admit I bought it mainly for the cool cover art.. I was not disappointed, Swampworld West is a hoary old tale of human settlers colonizing a swampy planet already inhabited by a intelligent but technologically backward race of semi-aquatic aliens. The story is basically a western, with grizzled old settlers mixing with idealistic young couples and stern army officers. The aliens stand in for the sometimes friendly, sometimes not native americans in a somewhat unintentionally racist fashion, complete with stilted english.
The aliens, Splurgs, are normally placid but occasionally form murderous mobs that destroy everything in their path, including each other. It is up to the ill-resourced but brave human settlers to find a solution. There is more than a hint of white-man's burden drifting around the plot, which was iffy in 1974 and seems completely bonkers now.
The setting is interesting enough, and the main character has a good backstoryActually it is too good and made me wish I was reading a prequel about his exploits in the lazer fighting arena instead of this. and a splash of two-fisted action, I can overlook the eye-rollingly obvious love story. The book falls down on pacing (such a slim volume should not seem so endless) and the prose, while perhaps not totally purple is certainly on the mauve end of the spectrum.
The central mystery trundles to an standard b-list sci-fi resolution of the "Of course, it is all so simple. All we need to do is..." variety, and things are wrapped up nicely on the last page. I think this book cost me NZ$2 which is about what the story is worth.
Final verdict: meh, could do worse.