Red Claw by Philip Palmer

Professor Richard Helms heads up a tight-knit band of scientists and soldiers sent to explore New Amazon, a lush but savage planet seemingly determined to attack them at every turn. When they are done cataloguing every detail of this vast, unfamiliar ecosystem, they will burn it to the ground and make it fit for human habitation.

But when the team falls under attack, Helms and his followers are forced to flee into the depths of the jungle. Here, old enemies and petty rivalries surface as they struggle to survive. They soon end up fighting for their lives – against the planet they are exploring, the robots designed to protect them and, most of all, against each other. For the countdown into madness is ticking.

Palmer burns a new path for science fiction in this gripping, dark tale of man’s place in the universe.

red-clawRed Claw is a book that I should love. It’s got a great cover and the premise – a planet full of completely weird and alien monsters – is one that I’ve enjoyed before and usually can’t get enough of. There are also some interesting characters with a dark background and plenty of action thrown into the mix. The good things in Red Claw are well worth reading, but the story felt a little loose and jumpy at times, while the view the majority of the human race take just seemed outdated and wrong. Read on if you want to know more…

As we start off on the planet of New Amazon, a team is out doing some research when they get attacked by one of the many weird and monstrous aliens inhabiting the planet. This first encounter tells us instantly what to expect in Red Claw – an unforgiving environment, scientists who want to study the planetary ecology and soldiers that don’t want to the scientists doing that, but would much rather shoot the monstrosities to extinction (which is what is planned anyway). This encounter, and pretty much every encounter with the natives that the humans have, is great – the action kicks in and Palmer does a very good job of putting you at the heart of the scene.

Some of the characters, at least the core characters, are pretty well developed, but this doesn’t stop the story from having a few that feel flat and one-dimensional. Luckily enough these aren’t in the foreground too much. I did question why certain characters acted in certain ways as events led from one to an other, and while military obedience is not something I’m overly familiar with I was struck at just how robotic some of them followed orders in the aftermath of events, especially when the commanding officer acts the way he does.

My two main gripes with Red Claw are the complete lack of any sort of explanation and believable premise as to why the wildlife on New Amazon is the way it is and also the attitude that the human race has. To comment on the first point, if a tree evolves to explode on touch, or a cyclops-type creature can fire laser out of its eye, can we please have a little explanation as to why? I get the impression that all of these things are nothing more than wish fulfilment from the author who just wants to put cool things in the book but doesn’t want to explain any of it. As for the latter point, here’s a quote for the book from a character talking about genocide: Why not? We are the human race. It’s our universe.” This is the attitude that pretty much all the characters have, and it’s a depressing one. To think that the human race would get to this point is not something I can easily believe – and to me I need to at least have some plausibility in my sci-fi for me to enjoy it.

Suffice to say that Red Claw was a disappointment. There were times when I enjoyed reading the story, times where Philip Palmer’s writing was great and times where I really wanted things to get better. Ultimately the story just didn’t do it for me, which is a real shame because there was so much promise lurking in these pages.

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