Planet of Mystery by Terry Bisson

Marooned on Venus, Hall and Chang of the first Chinese-American expedition are surprised to find themselves breathing Earth-normal air; and alarmed to find themselves captured by beautiful amazons mounted on foul-smelling centaurs.

“None of this can be real!” Hall protests, as he is dragged off to meet the Amazon Queen. Chang is inclined to agree (even though the arrow in his shoulder feels genuine).

Then the robot rolls in…

planet-of-mysteryThis was a book that I picked up during Alt.Fiction in June and was a freebie offered by PS Publishing. They had a few on the desk and I stealthily snatched it up to read as I’d seen it a few times when browsing the net and fancied giving it a go. I wasn’t really sure what to expect or what it was really about, it was the title and cover that got me interested. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it all that much, which is a shame because it could have been so interesting.

As the synopsis says, it follows the first manned mission to Venus and the discovery on landing that conditions are Earth normal, a fact that surprises them considerably. Not only that, but they’re met by beautiful Amazon women along with Centaurs and are taken to their castle. Although a robotic probe had been sent there before the mission it stopped broadcasting and they thought it was dead, until they discover the semi-AI probe on the planet while there.

Weird is certainly one way to describe Planet of Mystery – mysterious would be another, but that’s just plain obvious from the title! With the two crew members on the surface hesitant to report what they’ve found to the orbiting craft they instead plan to find out more of what is there before making any announcements. Throughout the story the simple question on whether they are dreaming or dead is raised, but enough evidence exists to prove that they are still alive and what they see is actually what is there.

The two main characters are Hall and Chang, the former being the leader of the mission while the latter is the creator of the robot probe they find alive and well on Venus. The feeling I had throughout is that the characters were simply there for the story to be told and the situation explored rather than advancing the plot in any way. Despite some interesting scenes and developments with the characters they felt pretty two-dimensional. It’s not a bad thing that this is the case, but it doesn’t really allow any form of connection to the story.

The only real thing that kept me reading was the question of just what exactly was going on. With an alien spacecraft thrown in halfway through I just let the story take me wherever it went, not really caring for anything except the ‘want to know’ factor. The ending was all a little ‘huh?’ for my liking and nothing was really resolved.

Planet of Mystery is a book that I read to the end because it was short and not one I would be in a hurry to recommend to anyone. It could have been more, but would have required a little bit more extrapolation and explanation, and as it is it just doesn’t stand up as a believable sci-fi story.

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