Mission to Moulokin
Reviewed date: 2009 May 13
I've been looking Mission to Moulokin for six or seven years, and I finally found a copy at Half Price Books. It's the second book in Alan Dean Foster's Icerigger trilogy. I enjoyed the other two books and remember them with fondness. Either my memory deceives me, or Mission to Moulokin fails to meet the same standards. It's a dull, formulaic story with little going for it.
The setting is Tran-ky-ky, an ice world of feudal city-states. The native Trans are humanoid, with cat-like fur and teeth. They have natural ice skates instead of feet, and they can skim along the ice by catching the wind on the webbing that extends from their arms to their torso. They are perfectly adapted to live on the frozen oceans of Tran-ky-ky.
The Humanx Commonwealth establishes a trading outpost on Tran-ky-ky. Jobias Trell, the Commonwealth administrator, exploits the natives and skims enough of the profit to make himself filthy rich. Our protagonists--a merchant named Ethan Frome Fortune, the enigmatic Skua September, and a scientist named Milliken Williams--decide to help the Tran by establishing a planetary alliance, which can then petition for membership in the Commonwealth. Once Tran-ky-ky is a member planet, Trell's exploitation of Tran-ky-ky can be stopped.
Let's stop right here: yes, Trell skims profits for himself. Is he exploiting the Tran? Hardly. By "exploiting", Fortune points to the fact that he charges the native a lot in exchange for metal implements, which are rare on Tran-ky-ky. Metal is cheap in the Commonwealth, so Fortune thinks (apparently) that Trell should not demand so much in return. But wait! Metal is precious on Tran-ky-ky. Why is it unreasonable to ask a high price for something that is precious? It's not. The only reason this is billed as exploitation is to set up the need for establishing a native government on Tran-ky-ky. It's a crummy reason. It would be better if Trell was a more sinister character and was actually enslaving the Tran. That at least would warrant action. But simply trading and doing business? That's not wrong.
Back to the plot. Fortune, September, and Milliken go gallavanting around Tran-ky-ky with their native friends, on a huge icerigger--that is, a sailing ship that skims across the ice on runners. They visit various city-states, trying to convince them to join into a planetary union. The fabled Moulokin (of the book's title) doesn't even get mentioned until 100 pages into the story, when someone suggests they go see if the Moulokinese will join the union. OK. So they sail to Moulokin, where they find the planet's most advanced culture. The Moulokinese join almost immediately. Moulokin, along with Sofold, are the union's only two members, but apparently that's enough to count as a planetary government because no other cities ever join, at least not in this book.
The bad guys--that is, Trell and his Tran minions--arrive at Moulokin and attempt to kill the nascent union, but they are defeated in a decisive battle. Trell is killed, as are all the other top bad guys.
It's just not a very good story. The freshness of the worldbuilding, which sustained the first book, is gone, so all we're left with is a second-rate story of sailing, fighting, and diplomacy. And stupidity, and some more boring worldbuilding. Sorry, I just didn't get into this story.