Back in the late 1970s, Alan Dean Foster was my introduction to science fiction. He wrote the novelizations to the Star Trek Animated Series, expanding 22-minute cartoons into longer stories with more depth and characterizations. Naturally, I gravitated toward Foster’s own work and started with his first book, The Tar-Aiym Krang. Thirty some-odd years later, I frankly can’t remember a thing about that book. Now that Audible.com has The Tar-Aiym Krang on audio, I decided to read it again.
Foster’s first novel, The Tar-Aiyam Krang (1972) is the first to feature his young hero, Flinx, and his ‘minidrag,’ Pip (basically, a flying snake-like thing). Flinx is an orphan on the planet Moth, part of the interstellar Human-Thranx Commonwealth. The Thranx are incectoid creatures who have a good relationship with the humans. Flinx, who is a partial telepath, happens upon a mugging in which Pip played a role, an event where both muggers and victim all die. Snagging something from the victim’s pocket, Flinx soon discovers it’s a star map that might lead to the Krang, a large weapon or musical instrument created by a long-dead race, the Tar-Aiym. Two gentlebeings, one human (Tse-Mallory) and one Thranx (Truzenzuzex) hire Flinx as a guide through his city. The trio end up at the home of a merchant, Malaika. Armed with the star map, they all board Malaika’s starship and set off on their adventure.
The irony of reading this book when I did is all one of timing. I recently  read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island for the first time as well as Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora. It’s clear that Foster was at least inspired by Treasure Island (treasure map; star map; young hero) and Lynch’s 2005 novel is part of a long line of orphan heroes (Oliver Twist, Batman, etc.). Foster’s book was good and lighter than I remembered. With young Flinx along, he gets the chance to ask Big Questions that result in an info dump on the reader. Thankfully, the info dumps were not too long but they still slowed the story. But the story’s kind of slow anyway. Treasure Island had more action than this book. But, at least, The Tar-Aiym Krang did have the huge ending, setting up Foster’s later books. One thing that annoyed me back in the day was the names of aliens. When I read the book, I could not even figure out how to pronounce Truzenzuzex. Now, with the audiobook, I know. More importantly, I know what the name means. Okay, I get it now. My bad.
The Tar-Aiym Krang is the first of four books Foster wrote in the 70s (Orphan Star, The End of the Matter, Bloodhype) and Flinx and Pip returns sporadically throughout the 80s and 90s. Back in 2009 [when this review was written], Foster published Flinx Transcendant, the fourteenth and final novel in the series. The Tar-Aiym Krang is a first book and it has all the good things a first book contains (new ideas, new characters, new universe) and a few minor nits (the need to explain everything at the expense of action). With most, if not all, the Flinx books now available on audio, I’m likely to forge through more Flinx books in the coming months and years. He’s a fun character and, besides, are you going to argue with a teenager who has a venomous flying reptile resting on his shoulder?