When we were preteens, we looked with disdain upon Alan Dean Foster because he did all the novelizations for science fictions movies and TV shows, and even then, we could see that these were obviously done for cash, and not Story, not Writing, not Craft, and all the other moral highroads that we couldn’t explain, but implicitly understood. He was the worst insult in our lexicon. A hack. (We were also insanely jealous that he had so much writing work!)
Somewhere in the eighties, Foster became a prodigal son for us, with the novel Into the Out Of, which is such an important book in our little clan’s culture, that none of us will ever see a piece of retread on the side of a highway or an airplane bathroom in the same way ever again. We learned that Foster could write. He
For Love of Mother-Not is on many “Best Of” lists. This in the first book in a series of adventures for Flinx, a teen tele-empathic, and his corrosive-venomed minidragon Pip. This book was written in 1983, and his most recent adventure was published in 2004, so Flinx is still going strong.
I loved reading this book, and most of it was very enjoyable. It is also an almost pure distillation of everything we have come to expect from Allan Dean Foster. The writing is sometimes clumsy and not well crafted, but the Story rises up out of the words. As Bradbury said, if you put it under a microscope, it would be teeming with detail! Never mind that the love angle was completely contrived, or that Mother Mastiff (Mother Not) has the most annoying speech tic since JarJar Binks.* This story rises up and grabs you.
As an aside, the Whelan cover for this version of the story just grabbed my attention. Over and over again, I kept examining it. It is very good.
Imagine that words lie on a flat plane, a plain grid. Every word or string of words that evokes an image or a thought or creates a scene in the mind of the reader, creates its own little hill that rises up from this blank paper. If the writer does their job, the reader is wandering through an amazing and varied landscape. This is what Foster, and this imperfect and delightful little book, has for writers. The words are simply vehicles to build the hills, and one shouldn’t be completely knotted up the craft of sentences, beyond them conveying what they must convey – it is the Story that makes the writing great.
* Okay, funny story: at the time I wrote this, I didn't KNOW Alan Dean Foster WROTE that script AND CREATED Jar-Jar Binks.