Ohh, bargain bin, you lottery of surprise and displeasure, how you hold our fate in your hands. Delight or disappointment just a penny or two away, your risk elevates the shock of surprise and softens the fall of displeasure. The latter significant, with L. Neil Smith’s 1988 Taflak Lysandra, a bargain book I found for less than a dollar, a softening was needed. Core sci-fi which makes the simplest of demands on the reader, it is perhaps best appreciated by the YA audience or the juvenile libertarian—if at all.
Taflak Lysandra is the story of one young lady, Lysandra, and her underleaf (yes, under leaf) adventure among the alien Taflak. Like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon, Lysandra, her coyote father (father’s brain, coyote’s body), an eccentric professor, and a yeti (not what you think) embark on a journey through the leafy core of a planet in their subfolia ship to explore regions unknown. Adventure, of course, ensues. Aliens and cabals, fights and battles, and, naturally, the ever-present Sea of Leaves and its mysterious depths.
Taflak Lysandra’s cover is thus wholly representative (not a deterrent when the bargain bin is in play). Standard pink bodysuit-wearing female sf heroine armed to the teeth, check. Standard ovoid space ship landed on jungle planet, check. Standard coyote with mechanical arm attached to back, che—wait a moment. What the? Hmm… maybe best to keep going. Massive-eyed purple blob standing on cheese-doodle leg with pistol in holster and a spe—a spear?!?! Something fishy is going on here… or maybe it’s something cheesy…
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction describes Smith’s oeuvre as being largely “comedy thrillers”. Typically an oxymoron, the resulting expectation rings true in Taflak Lysandra—that is, if one is willing to concede that comedic elements intentionally exist. Regardless whether the reader finds the story funny or not, the attempts at humor and overall light tone deflate any real sense of tension or conflict, relegating matters to B-movie status. The sum result can be summed up as: freedom loving gun wielders defeat pro-government conspirators with their guns in fun, gun-loving fashion. Yeah for guns!
The Encyclopedia likewise describes Smith as a “writer, ex-police reserve officer, gunsmith and former state candidate for the US Libertarian Party”, and indeed Smith switches between these hats in Taflak Lysandra—at least the latter three. Guns in hand, exhibiting a healthy dislike of ‘the system’, and occasionally taking a break to proselytize some half-baked, pseudo-Libertarian agenda, the novel is multi-faceted, indeed. The agenda presented in such simplistic terms, it takes a real effort not to groan at the pettiness.
In the end, Taflak Lysandra is planetary adventure in throwback attire catering to right wingers. An immature story that bears its youth in simple political terms and humor, only in the movement of the adventure can one scrape anything together to produce a compliment.
Bargain bin you disappointed this time, but I will keep coming back to you…