Alan Dean Foster
Nor Crystal Tears (1982)
Reviewed: 1996-05-16

One intriguing aspect of Foster's popular Homanx Commonwealth universe, setting for many of his novels, is the underlying cultural symbiosis between Man and the insectoid Thranx. Written entirely from the viewpoint of the Thranx protagonist, Nor Crystal Tears describes the first contact between the two species and what initiated the developments leading to the Homanx Amalgamation.

Starting with his unusual hatching, Ryo is somewhat different from other Thranx. As a maturing larva he is a ferocious student, but when his mates choose their future careers, he can't find any subject he is particularly interested in. Eventually, after metamorphosis, he winds up in the agricultural service in the rural community of the backwater colonial planet where he was born. Ryo even gains a medal after defending the settlement against a raid by the reptilian AAnn, but his feelings at the sight of the alien shuttle craft leave him even more confused about himself than before.

When a rumor of the discovery of a new alien race reaches Ryo he is immediately compelled to follow the story and meet the reportedly monstrous creatures. Against the resistance of his clan and family, breaking custom and law, later teaming up with a wealthy poet, Ryo travels to Hivedeom, the Thranx world of origin. There they trace the rumors to a remote military outpost in a particularly inhospitable part of the planet. In the course of rather tumultuous events, Ryo finally meets and eventually befriends some of the aliens, and together they flee the planet from the hardliners in the Thranx military to the home of the aliens where the events are nearly mirrored. It is up to Ryo and his alien friends to find a way to introduce the two species to each other without causing a catastrophe and despite a strong mutual instinctive dislike.

As somebody who grew up to accept the reality of cold war I found Nor Crystal Tears a very beautiful and deeply moving novel, although I'm afraid its ending is a typical case of wish fulfillment with little plausibility. It is something of an antithesis to Pellegrino and Zebrowski's The Killing Star. As a portrayal of an alien species, the novel is only partway successful. The Thranx are best described as anthropomorphized ants, superficially quite different from Homo sapiens but far from truly alien, especially in their way of thinking.

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