cover image Dirge


Alan Dean Foster. Del Rey Books, $24.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-345-41864-7

Derivative and predictable, this second novel in Foster's Founding of the Commonwealth series reinforces the lesson that looks can be deceiving. When Alwyn Mallory explores the new world of Argus V, he inadvertently becomes part of the first contact team to meet the alien Pitar. Unlike the unpleasantly buglike alien thranx, the Pitar are ""drop-dead, overpoweringly, stunningly, gorgeous."" Relations with the friendly but disliked thranx slow to a crawl as humanity overwhelmingly embraces the Pitar. Their telegenic appearances are so compelling that the media scarcely notices when the thranx are attacked by terrorists in a protected diplomatic enclave on Earth. Possibly the only good thing to come out of the slaughter is the founding of a joint religion by two clerics, one human and one thranx. As years pass, and the Pitar continue to refuse access to their homeworld, the media spin explains that they are ""shy"" and refuses to believe they could have anything to hide. Meanwhile, humanity is happily expanding through the galaxy and colonizing Argus V--until disaster strikes and all 600,000 colonists are hideously slaughtered by an unknown force. When Mallory is discovered, crazed and near death, hiding on one of the Argus's moons, he is the only hope humankind has for ascertaining just who the villainous, slaughtering aliens really are. Although Foster implies that interesting things are going to happen with human-thranx religious philosophies, that doesn't happen in this novel. Instead we get a vision of humanity as a race unable to see beyond the reflection of surface beauty and incapable of restraining itself from its basest instincts when that enhanced mirror is shattered. (June)