A Jungle Of Stars — Jack L. Chalker (1976)

20150706_183808Publisher: Ballantine Books

Second Del Rey Printing: September 1980

Cover Art: H.R. Van Dongen

Plot Synopsis (of cover): Waits of three cycles or more are common when attempting to book a table at La Boulangerie de Flarxxarb, premier brunch location on the northeastern spiral arm of the Milky Way. Drunvalo Flarxxarb, head chef and proprietor, is revered across the galaxy for his skill and craftsmanship. His success is so great that his once-humble cafe has sprawled an entire city around it—granaries, grow-houses, animal processing plants… it is said that even the atmosphere is particulate-controlled to enhance the flavor of the soup du jour. Yes, almost everything that Drunvalo Flarxxarb touches turns to gold… that is, with the exception of his teenaged son, Biff. Biff Flarxxarb was far more concerned with girls and space weed than he was with his father’s craft. Even assigned the most menial of tasks, Biff would find one way or another to flub the job. As a last-ditch effort before shipping his son off to the Military School Planet, Flarxxarb Senior wangles his son a job parking cars at his restaurant. On his first day, due to his neglecting the daily management e-mail, Biff is unaware that the Aldebaran Tripe Soup being served calls for a particularly large amount of aerosol methane in the atmosphere. Knowing as much, perhaps Biff would have snuffed his spliff before tossing it out the window of the Galactic Mayor’s car. As it stands, it looks like it may be off to the Military School Planet for this lovable rascal!

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: I grew up with books like this one. The “you got your metaphysics in my sci-fi” peanut butter cup is an old fave, usually doled out by the likes of Phil Dick and Co. True to form, there’s even a familiar bit of war intrigue here in the guise of an unexpected jaunt through Vietnam to baffle expectations. Chalker manages a fair bit of the detective novel alongside giant hive-mind space tigers, and that’s just groovy by me. I also like that he transforms a thoroughly unlikable simp of a character into a protagonist we can root for, though an admittedly dark and thinly fleshed one (being one of probably six people who read through the expanded Thomas Covenant universe, I appreciate a good redemption story). Mostly, this is an impressive first novel that feels like something written by someone who would rather be writing a series of novels, but it’s still pretty fun. The moral of its story, by the way, is that even the ugliest of souls can find redemption and immortality through deals with the Space Devil. Oh, and chubby blind girls are easy.

Rating: 8.1 Left-Handed Orgasms

Questions for Critical Cover Viewing:

* Of the spacecraft on the cover, do you prefer a) the single-seat space bubble with slick red headlight filters, b) the wingless DC-8s carrying Xenu’s armies, or c) the USS Enterprise?

* Is the Jungle on the other side of the planet? With the Stars? Is there a fold-out that I’m missing from my copy?

* What possessed the alien on the cover to dig up Liberace’s corpse and steal his blazer?

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