The Candle of Distant Earth
by Alan Dean Foster
Review by Mel Jacob
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0345461312
Date: 27 June, 2006 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Alan Dean Foster concludes his Taken trilogy in The Candle of Distant Earth. Walker's adventures began when the Vilenjji, intergalactic traders in exotic species, abducted him from Earth in Lost And Found, the first of the Taken trilogy. He escaped along with the talking dog George, a giant tentacled poet, and a purple squid who considers herself the epitome of intelligence. Their adventures continued in a second book Light Years Beneath My Feet in which ended with Walker convincing the Niyyuuan to assist him to seek Earth.
The Candle of Distant Earth opens with Hyff astronomer Ussakk discovering the approach of three ships he concludes must be the Iollth, intergalactic raiders, killers, and marauders (similar to the Earth's Vikings), who plunder his world every hundred years or so. Panic ensues.
However, the Hyff meet Walker and the benign Nyyuuans instead. In relief, the Hyff welcome their guests and provide vectors to the home world of Braouk, the giant Tuuqalian poet and fellow abductee. However, as Walker and his ships prepare to depart, the Iollth appear close behind. Fearing the raiders, the Hyff beg Walker and the Niyyuuan for help to defend their world. Concerned for the gentle Hyff, Walker meets resistance from others. The Iollth have five ships; the Niyyuuan have only three.
Foster has created a humorous saga reminiscent of Dorothy's journey in The Wizard of Oz, and suitable for young adults and even younger readers. George the talking dog also from Earth, his intelligence and speech augmented by the Vilenjji, provides an acerbic foil for Walker's well-intentioned efforts at leadership. Vilenjji trader/slaver, Pret-Klob, the counterpart of the Wicked Witch of the West and the villain of the series, strives to recover his escaped "property," and his schemes further complicate Walker's adventures.
Humor presents many difficulties, but Foster manages to keep one liners flowing. Using it, he also twists the alien abductee theme to explore serious issues of what it means to be sentient, intelligent, and sensitive and the real meaning of home. George shows great sensitivity in his response to the Tuuqalians when he provides a saga on what the Vilenjji enhancements mean to him.
Walker prefers using his brain instead of brawn so he avoids most battles after the initial confrontation with the Iollth. Action in Candle resembles chess rather than mayhem and gore. Media representatives have a major voice in battle councils. Alien species recognize a battle win or loss occurs when one side has the upper hand and the potential losers surrender rather than fight to the death. All in all, the aliens act in a rational manner, including Pret-Klob.
Purists may quibble with the feasibility of the physical nature of the aliens and their technology. However, once readers suspend disbelief, they accompany Foster on a rollicking ride with Walker and his friends. Help comes from surprising sources and often when least expected. In the end, Foster leaves room for Walker and George to have more adventures in future novels.