THE PRACTICE EFFECT
David Brin

 


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Bantam Books, 1984
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Dennis Nuel has been exiled from the scientific project he pioneered. Zievatronics has replaced physics as the science most likely to carry humans to other planets. This makes the project a plum for Director Marcel Flaster, an incompetent scientist who lives by politics. The zievatron’s most recent discovery, a planet with conditions very similar to Earth, has been named Flasteria, to Dennis’s disgust.

Flaster is forced to ask for Dennis‘s help when the zievatron connection with Flasteria stops working. Dennis, returning from a life of loose ends where his most creative outlet is practical jokes, plunges in with enthusiasm. Not only does he diagnose the zievatron’s problem, he makes friends with a creature captured from Flasteria. He is rather pleased to find he will have to go there to make repairs.

With zievatron replacement equipment, and shoddy camping gear provided by his rival Bernald Brady, Dennis steps onto Flasteria. He isn’t prepared to find the zievatron unit at that end torn up for spare parts. There is an intelligent civilization here, but the laws of nature seem to have changed. This is upsetting – but at least the planet has its own name, and it isn’t Flasteria.

Dennis has a single big advantage on Tatir: his inventive imagination. This gives him abilities that make him an important political pawn, and a natural partner with his fellow prisoner Princess Linnora of the L’Toff. The L’Toff are a renegade people known for their strange powers. If Dennis can invent his way out of the many hazards, he will be able to help a people with whom he can finally feel at home.

Dennis is a lively, interesting character from the start. His openness to new ideas, his ability to learn the principles of this new world and to combine them with his Earth experience, makes THE PRACTICE EFFECT feel like a trip through a series of widening doors. The reader following Dennis’s mind at work will make a fascinating progression of discovery.

THE PRACTICE EFFECT has a fantasy-like setting, a medieval civilization and magical principles; but this semi-cliché setting is turned on its head when it is combined with the scientific state of mind. The laws of nature on Tatir are as immutable as those on Earth, just different. Author David Brin’s explanation of how they got that way isn’t as irresistibly logical as he usually is, but by the time we get to the explanations, Tatir has become so real to us that we want to believe anything that will support its existence.

David Brin wrote THE PRACTICE EFFECT early in his career. By that time he had already won a rare combination of awards with his ability to fix a single, unique physical or social trait into a society and see what effects it would have. In this case his plot was inspired by a sideways glimpse of the saying “practice makes perfect”. Look at the worldscape that resulted!

July 2005 Review

 

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