enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: David R. Palmer, Threshold

I read this book about 29-Jul-2021. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1985. This note was last modified Sunday, 08-Aug-2021 20:18:13 PDT.

This is book 1 of the "Threshold" series.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


I first read this when it first came out, but that was a long time ago. It was, not a sequel, but the new book from the author of the widely-liked Emergence (#2). I, and everybody else I talked to at the time, found it quite bad. And it was announced as the start of a trilogy but no other books ever appeared.

Fast-forward a few decades, to when Palmer brought out a sequel to Emergence called Tracking. Which I found surprisingly pleasant ("surprisingly" because late sequels are always suspicious, and Palmer seemed to have bombed out on his followup to his big success with his first novel).

Then I noticed there was a new book, which was the rest of the Threshold story apparently but in 1 volume rather than 2. So, what the heck, guy managed to come back from the grave, give his book a chance. On consideration, though, I really don't remember Threshold well enough to read books 2-5 (which is how the new volume is divided up). So here I am finally re-reading a book I wrote off quite enthusiastically the first time I read it.

First-person protagonist Peter Cory is a billionaire businessman, which is something that reads very differently now than it did in 1985. Back then billionaires were rare, and often admired; these days they're kind of on the shit list. And he likes working at least 16 hours a day, 7 days a week; not something that's healthy for anybody, and few people are thinking straight after a week or two of that. But hey, that's the mythology, "hard work"! (I do wonder if "Richard Cory" is part of the genesis of that character name, the one in the poem or the reference in the Simon and Garfunkel song.)

Apologies to the book in advance for not coming to it with a fully open mind!

On the other hand, Peter is being set up as arrogant and domineering to be immediately taken down a peg (in process before page 10), so there's that. It's kind of amusing watching him slowly recover from shock while Meg (the Tinkerbell lookalike; perhaps anime-derived, but she's also compared to an "underaged Pini illustration") and Memphus the large talking cat play good-alien/bad-alien on his head.

Oh dear, we're going to do one of those "this is the real thing behind Earth myths of witches" things, which I never really like for very long. Some people have a gnäa'q or talent for making predictions from the information in the Data Field; it's partly extra-sensory, partly mathematics, and partly the pwW'r (a word meaning "art"). Especially that second one, I don't buy their word for "art" ending up being our word "power". I'd mostly forgotten this crap. And it goes on. Don't worry, I won't bring it up again.

So, no pressure, Peter; but the compudictors say you're the only being in the entire galaxy with any reasonable chance of leading the Isi to victory in Armageddon. Good luck!

The Isi can't comprehend mechanics, so we were chosen to provide knowledge there. And apparently Peter can be trained to be a 10th order warlock (which is what Meg already is), at which point he'll know both sides and might be able to do something useful. The compudictors say just under 50% chance, and the next-best chance is .04%, so that seems to be a fairly easy choice.

First minor problem: Isi blew its wad getting Meg and Memphus here (about 30,000 light years). So the first project is to create using Earth technology (plus what Meg and Memphus can provide) a way to get them all back to Isis, where the training can happen.

Armageddon, the final destroyer, is due in about 1800 years, which is a relevant timeframe for people with the lifespans trained warlocks have. Peter does have a bit of trouble taking that seriously at first (while lecturing on how we're short-sightedly destroying our planet as if he meant it).

Hmmm; some nice work, letting us read the formal reports being prepared back on Isi, where people who know the whole plan report on progress so far—including things Meg, at least, doesn't know, since apparently she's been conditioned and various knowledge blocked off.

And we're off on what may be a series of quests, first for a huge ruby in a deep lake in occupied Tibet (and in this universe China has no diplomatic relations with anybody, and hates Peter in particular).

Oooh, Meg doesn't know that what she was trying to do, teach Peter to detect magic, isn't possible. Conditioning!

Wait, why didn't Peter use the bodily control that would let him detect and destroy disease and parasites to fix the ache from the vaccination cocktail he didn't need? Maybe because if he'd tried hard he'd have realized there was a monitoring capsule there, not just fluids?

Oops, Meg has detected a break in a memory chain; the watchers are worried she's going to figure out what's going on, and imply that the plan involves betraying and probably sacrificing Peter, and that Meg won't like that. Also, the term "memory chain" and the concept of breaks, particularly breaks caused by mental operations, is very much a Doc Smith idea and phrase, I wouldn't be shocked if that might be the actual origin.

Wonder if we're going to hear about abandoning the magic fuel tanks in China? The vehicles will presumably get found.

A couple of clear Doc Smith tracks so far. The "memory chain" thing I just mentioned, but then not so much later they use Isi magic (instead of a Bergenholm) to render their DC-9 inertialess. And it behaves exactly as I would expect. So that removes any ambiguity about whether there's Doc Smith influence sloshing around here. (And he didn't disagree on Facebook.)

As Peter deals with the long trek, it takes him 6 months to figure out that he should have considered domesticating the local wildlife. What eventually occurs to him is the voor'flön, since it's the fastest thing he's met. You can fall to supersonic velicities, though, and it doesn't even take an exotic form; it just take a very long fall.

While domesticating random wildlife doesn't seem that likely to succeed, his more direct approach of taking over its nervous system through a probe (rather like Heinlein's slugs from Titan, actually) seems reasonable. I mean, the very broad form of "resonable" you get if you decide the biochemical and neurological languages are going to be compatible enough. But Peter has already remarked on the similarities of biology in general between Earth and Isi. Oooh; the voor'flön is sapient, and they can communicate internally through the nerves. Yep; and of course he makes friends with her. He does seem to be fairly good at that, and not just in sociopath manipulative ways.

Things come close to disaster at the end, and he really does take a long time to realize he's not in his usual body and people are reacting to him being an unfamiliar monster.

And the book ends with an explicit "What could possibly go wrong?", so I presume the planned sequel has a thing or two going wrong.

The naming, both the ones similar to earth words and the ones not, remains a huge annoyance. And I imagine that will continue through the rest of the story, too. Otherwise it's fairly fun.

Now, this cover.

It probably thinks it shows Peter riding the voor'flön; but in the book he never does it in his human body, and she's vastly bigger than that. Finally, if one interpreted it as that, then the cover of the book would be a spoiler.


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David Dyer-Bennet