Howling Stones Mass Market Paperback – Nov 26 1997
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From School Library Journal
YA?Like Foster's Cachalot (Severn House, 1994) and the popular "Flinx" series, this story is set in the "Humanx Commonwealth." Two scientists race against their vicious alien nemesis, the Aan, to secure a treaty for mining rights on the newly discovered planet Senisran. The aboriginal natives' sacred stones are found to have an immense power that the humans and the Aan will do almost anything to obtain. While not of the caliber of Foster's Nor Crystal Tears (Del Rey, 1982), this is an engrossing, well-written book. The author has again created believable, complex characters, and a vivid alien planet.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Foster here returns to the Commonwealth Universe, the setting for his Icerigger trilogy and Flinx novels, for this morality tale of first contact with aboriginal aliens. Two Commonwealth xenologists from advanced societies compete for a treaty with the Seni after discovering that they have sacred stones with unexplainable powers for healing, gardening, fishing, transportation, and other uses. The Seni must demonstrate to the humans why their cultural mores prohibit a treaty. Foster treats the Seni with compassion and respect, showing that primitive cultures are not necessarily destined for exploitation. A fascinating anthropological novel with complex characters that belongs in all sf collections.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The world of this novel is known as Senisran, a largely ocean planet, devoid of any substantial continental landmass but instead spotted with thousands of islands, many of them in archipelagoes. Most of the islands are fairly small, the largest being about half the size of Madagascar. The climate over most of the globe is hot and humid, the islands being covered in tropical vegetation (with a fair amount of venomous fauna).
The native race is known as the seni and are bipedal humanoids, tending to be a bit shorter than adult humans, with smooth skin, pointed ears, drawn faces, relatively small mouths, and powerful hind legs easily capable of allowing their owners to hop great distances and over large obstacles. On the cover of the book one is depicted, the illustration pretty much spot-on for what is described in the text.
In the Humanx Commonwealth novels, there are two competing interstellar civilizations, rivals not unlike the two superpowers during the Cold War, one being the human-thranx (the thranx being an insectoid race, not seen in this novel and indeed most of the Commonwealth books), the other the AAnn Empire (this being a civilization of bipedal endothermic reptiles, something not unlike what dinosaurs might have evolved into according to some). Both the Commonwealth and the Empire have been in competition for control of Senisran, not through force of arms, but through diplomacy, trying to gain mineral and other rights to many of the various islands on the planet. Complicating their efforts tremendously is the fact that not only is there nothing approaching a world or even a regional government on Senisran, there are countless tribes, clans, and alliances, each with a unique governmental system, morality, mythology, religion, and/or social system. Making contact and trade arrangements with the stone age seni has been a time consuming and difficult process but has nonetheless yielded many successes.
Until now that is. One particular island group, Parramat, has resisted all efforts by either the Empire or the Commonwealth. Eager for the rare earth mineral wealth of the archipelago, both powers have failed in efforts to get the Parramati to sign a mining treaty. Though physically no different in appearance from the other tribes and clans of the world, the Parramati are unique in having politely but stubbornly refused the gifts of both the Commonwealth and the Empire, disdaining all but the most basic of gifts, stating simply that it violates their kusum, their custom, to accept anything approaching advanced technology. They believe that they will be much better off following their centuries long tradition, that while they would accept humans and the AAnn as visitors and friends, they could not tolerate any large scale changes of their environment or society.
In addition, the Paramati seem to have a unique governmental structure; they are almost totally democratic. There are big persons and little persons in the system, big persons having more of a say in things than a little person, though many little persons can outweigh individual big persons. There is not even a clan chief or tribal leader anyone can negotiate with; in essence, almost each and every adult on the island would have to agree to a treaty before it could take effect.
Enter Pulickel Tomochelor (Foster seems fond of tongue-twisting futuristic names for some of his main characters), a rather smug but accomplished xenologist ordered to journey to the island, aid the one human already stationed there, and secure a mining treaty. Supremely confident in his abilities, Pulickel believed that he could in a few months time come to understand the Parramati and get them to agree to mining.
Of course, things do not go that easily. The one Commonwealth representative in the archipelago, the imposing and beautiful Fawn Seaforth, is quite a bit different in personality from Pulickel, and they don't see eye to eye at first, Fawn believing Pulickel humorless, uptight, by-the-book, and a bit smug while Pulickel in turn feeling that Fawn has gone native to some extent, has let standards slide while stationed alone in the tropical near-paradise, not properly attending to her duties, and too fun-loving. Further complicating their mission is the rival AAnn outpost on the opposite side of the archipelago, the aliens scheming how to win the islands to their side and possibly forcibly remove the competition.
The title of the book hints at a further complication; the natives seem to possess some sort of magic, various stones that are said to aid in fishing, farming, healing, weather-forecasting and what not. By themselves, the stones appear as green glassy volcanic rock, inert and unremarkable, but somehow when combined with other stones these rocks are rumored to be able to do very powerful feats. Is this true? If so, perhaps this explains the natives' unique resistance to the considerable charms offered by Empire and Commonwealth civilization and technology. And if true, is it magic, or something else?
The exact nature of the stone is revealed (to a large extent) and their ultimate implications were extremely interesting. The ending of the book I found quite surprising and wonder if Foster ever planned to follow up on it, though strictly speaking no sequel is really necessary. All in all a good solid effort and another nice installment in the Humanx Commonwealth series.
I read the kindle edition, and it had a huge amount of transcription errors. Normally I get past that pretty easily, but these were enough to affect my enjoyment of the story. However, I did not factor that into my score, as it had nothing to do with the story itself.
The story occurs on an oceanic planet, Senisran, where thousands of islands are inhabited by non-spacefaring bipeds, the seni. One sub-group of the seni, the Parramati, has been resisting diplomatic overtures from two spacefaring races. These are human beings and advanced lizards called "Aann." The spacefarers are exploitive and high-tech, and they want to dig up the Parramati islands to mine commercial minerals.
A highlight of the novel, indeed my favorite part of it, is the relationship of the two main characters, both human. One of these xenologist-diplomats is Fawn, a tall, blond, easygoing female shaped like a goddess. The other is Fawn's polar opposite. He is a diminutive Javanese male, Pulickel (poo' lick ull), who balances Fawn not only with his short height but also with his adherence to proper procedure.
In addition to other absorbing elements, a mystery helps the reader turn pages. Why won't the Parramati sign a trade agreement, with either the humans or the Aann? The natives would get technology and the spacefarers would get minerals. But the stubborn natives always have an excuse, albeit unconvincing. And then a new, seemingly magical phenomenon enters the picture, making it even more imperative that Fawn and Pulickel get that treaty.