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Birdie Down is Jim Graham’s second novel and a science fiction version of what Rudyard Kipling would have called a “ripping good yarn.” What we have here is high adventure of the best kind with a motley collection of crashed revolutionaries and hostages struggling to survive on a jungle planet rife with bad weather, deadly creatures, and hostile enemy forces. The odd dose of rank treachery adds even more spice to the rich mix.
The book opens with some solid foundation-laying. Birdie Down is an episode within the greater story told in Graham’s first novel, Scat (see my review), and early chapters provide the tie-in. We soon reach the story’s heart.
Andrew “Birdie” Goosen, the Birdie of the book’s title, is flying a shuttle on a critical mission only days into a revolt against an oppressive corporate entity that dominates planets on the “outer rim,” the region of known space farthest from Earth. At the start, he has only one small problem: he does not know how to fly. This soon becomes apparent and government fighters shoot his craft out of the sky. In the process, they also down a shuttle filled with former hostages.
Birdie (and company) survives, only now he has a whole lot of big problems. Bad weather keeps the enemy temporarily at bay, but torrential rain brings on the planet’s feeding season, a frenzy reminiscent of the one on the much drier world in Vin Diesel’s, “Pitch Black.” The story unfolds as the crash survivors try to reach safe-haven located miles away through a flooding jungle erupting with ravenous fanged fish and swarming man-eating vermin. This is definitely not a tale for the squeamish.
The jungle journey is a thrill in itself, yet there is more to come as the scene shifts to a flooding riverbank where huge monsters and enemy agents await the unwary. It all climaxes in a final shootout between rebel rescuers and corporate forces. However, as so often happens in Graham’s work, the story takes a number of unexpected turns and some things are not what they appear to be.
Besides the suspenseful adventure, what makes this novel work so well is Birdie. He is an extremely likable character and comes across as the decent human being caught up in a nasty situation not of his making. He tries so hard to do the right thing that you cannot help but respect and admire him. Other characters are well drawn, interesting, and effective.
There are some minor indie glitches here and there, but none that impairs the pleasing classic-sci-fi feel this entertaining novel so consistently presents. If you enjoy desperate struggles to survive against long odds, this one is a winner.