The Planet Dweller, Jane Palmer (1985)
Review by Ian Sales
While many of the books published by The Women’s Press under their science fiction label were reprints, some were original. The Planet Dweller by Jane Palmer was one such. As were two of her later novels, The Watcher (1986), and a sequel to The Planet Dweller, Moving Moosevan (1990).
Diana works for an Iron Age village museum. She lives nearby. Next to the museum is a radio observatory, where Jane’s childhood friend Eva works. Also close by is Yuri, a Russian astronomer who spends most of his time drunk and at the telescope in his overgrown garden. He is convinced something strange is happening in the heavens: asteroids and other small celestial objects are moving in some strange pattern which will soon see them come together to form a planet-sized mass. But there is one piece left in this heavenly puzzle, and Yuri’s calculations suggest it is inside the Earth.
No one, of course, takes Yuri seriously, least of all Diana. She has enough on with her job, her own rapidly approaching menopause, her young daughter, Julia, and a local Tory lady of the manor. But when Julia and some of the local kids witness a strange and ethereal manifestation inside a fairy ring, it seems Yuri might be onto something…
Meanwhile, the Mott, a member of an imperialistic alien race, is trying to drive the planet dweller Moosevan from its planetary home so it can then colonise the planet. with the help of evil alien genius Kulp and his two sidekicks, Jannu and Tolt. In order to survive its eviction, Moosevan has set in motion the accretion engine which is causing objects in the Solar System to come together… and which will destroy the Earth when it completes. Fortunately, on hand are Dax and Reniola, whose bodies have actually been occupied by a two members of a race which has transcended from the universe and have only returned in response to the original Dax and Reniola’s plea for help.
Moosevan’s accretion engine involves a gateway of some sort – the manifestation in the fairy ring – which drags Yuri and Diana across to Moosevan’s home. Where they meet Kulp, Jannu and Tolt, and Dax and Reniola. And together they manage to prevent the Mott from ousting Moosevan and so destroying the Earth.
The Planet Dweller is a typical example of that sort of science fiction in which a comic novel is married with a fantastical element which vaguely resembles science fiction. Yes, the Mott, the other aliens, the concept of the planet dweller and all that, are from science fiction’s toy-box. But there’s no rigour in their deployment, no attempt at presenting a convincing universe. This is science fiction as literary tool, not as setting or enabler of plots. So it’s just as well that in Diana, Eva and Yuri, Palmer has created a well-drawn trio of characters.
In fact, The Planet Dweller is at its most engaging before the the science-fictional element kicks into gear. The opening chapters introduce Diana, her life, tribulations and environs, and they make for an entertaining read. The Mott and its machinations only seem to complicate matters that are in little need of complication. And even then, the narrative seems to skip and jump, making leaps of causality and logic that occasionally baffle. Not to mention the lack of rigour also leading to bafflement – such as, why does Moosevan, a planet-sized being, have human-sized control equipment for its accretion machine? And what are “conscience cells”? Morality as biology? Further, Dax and Reniola are effectively omnipotent, though not so powerful they don’t have to work to resolve the situation. Which is nonetheless sorted, with little or no input from Diana, the protagonist of the novel.
There are some nice turns of phrase in The Planet Dweller. There is, somewhere inside it, a nicely entertaining story. But this is not a novel that is greater than the sum of its parts.