Saturday, 22 June 2002

L. Sprague de Camp: A Planet Called Krishna (1949)

Edition: Compact, 1966
Review number: 1099

Any novel which contains the sentence "Thank the pantheon they'd packed his pills and disinfectants, without which he felt half a man!" is worth reading for that alone. Apart from its humour, it reflects the likely attitude of a real Western traveller in a primitive unhygenic environment far better than the vast majority of stories of this type (A Planet Called Krishna basically being a fantasy novel with a thin science fiction veneer).

Victor Hasselborg is a detective who, despite specialising in insurance fraud cases, is hired to find the missing daughter of Syrian businessman Yussuf Batruni. When he discovers that she has fallen for a Casanova and taken an interplanetary trip with him, Hasselborg has to follow, however unwillingly, to the backward planet of Krishna. There, because of the policy of non-interference with the native culture (decades before Star Trek's Prime Directive), he has to abandon his high-tech equipment before having his hair dyed green and a pair of false antennae fitted so he can pass as a native Krishnan. He is at least permitted to retain his pills!

It is Hasselborg's jaundiced reaction to the charms of Krishna which makes de Camp's novel different even now from the usual run of fantasy literature. In style it is reminiscent of Clifford D. Simak, though I think this came first, and it is enjoyable and not particularly taxing. A Planet Called Krishna also began a series of stories set there, now not among de Camp's best known novels but worth seeking out. As Robert Heinlein said, "the reader is left with a pleasant glow, a feeling that life is not so bad after all" when they have read one of de Camp's novels.

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