The first in a new "prequel" series from one of the premier writers of fantasy and science fiction, Phylogenesis traces the origins of bestselling author Alan Dean Foster's highly popular novels of the Commonwealth (For Love of Mother-Not, The Tar-Aiym Krang, etc.). Here Foster presents the reader with a science-fiction spectacle that is a quest for both inspiration and redemption, beginning with the love of poetry and ending with the mutual respect and union of two worlds. Narrative threads of adventure and well-done characterization twine together to form a profound tale of conflict, interplanetary fellowship, and poetry's place in an always unpredictable and dangerous universe.
On the planet of Willow-Wane a precarious truce exists between the insectoid thranx and the smaller but much more aggressive community of the lizard-like AAnn. Rumors arrive that other sentient beings have arrived on the planet, a group of intelligent mammals called Humans. Desvendapur is a thranx poet suffering from a stagnant career and lack of creative inspiration. Unsure if the supposed secret colony of Humans at Honydrop is only gossip or a conspiracy of his world government, Des sets out to learn the truth in the hope of finding his muse again. Hidden in a secluded complex on a high plateau of ice and snow where none of the humidity-loving insectoids dare roam, Desvendapur discovers that there is indeed a human settlement on Willow-Wane. He learns that it is part of a huge project devoted to greater understanding and interaction between the two species. Through a series of liesandfalsified information, Desvendapur immediately gives up his identity as a poet to become a food technician at the complex.
Des studies all he can about this strange new race, even learning the rudiments of their unwieldy language. After inadvertently wandering outside into the snow, Des is saved by a man and suddenly finds his poetic imagination fired once more. Des is eventually transferred to the Amazon forest on Earth to take part in an exchange project. There, he meets Cheelo Montoya, a small-time criminal trying to gain a better position in a local crime syndicate. Cheelo is on the run for accidentally murdering a mugging victim, and together he and Des travel and learn more about one another and each other's race. Soon, AAnn forces are tracking them, as man and thranx become bound in friendship and eventually in blood.
As always, Foster manages to infuse his polished writing with a true sense of realism and easy readability. With a cast that ranges across three intelligent species and a number of class systems, we see how societies not only interact with other cultures, but also which internal problems, complexities, and intrinsic values are present within them at any given time. Foster offers a wonderful balance in Phylogenesis, instilling in Desvendapur a voracious muse for which he will sacrifice almost anything. This is more than just the hub around which the plot revolves, it's an utterly engaging element showing the true humanity of the creative individual. Foster is skilled at capturing several character traits at once, as well as at fashioning various underlying plotlines and dramatic tension. Again he gives us a perfectly-wrought and intriguing novel, with a multi-faceted narrative vision that allows the reader a greater understanding of the magnitude of such sprawling, poignant, and soulful SF elements.