Monday, April 6, 2020

Book Review: Ta

Book Review: 'Ta' by John Robert Russell
4 / 5 Stars

John Robert Russell (1927 - 2007) published three sci-fi novels in the 1970s: 'Cabu' (1974), 'SAR' (1974), and 'Ta' (1975).

'Ta' (207 pp) was published by Pocket Books in April 1975 and features a cover illustration by Mike Gross.

On the planet Ta, things aren't going well for the aristocrats in the Northern cities. The supply of sap from the Takusa plant has been curtailed, with severe consequences for the economy, since the sap - a remarkable natural plastic - is processed for myriad uses, including building materials, textiles, and fuel.

Mako, the leader of the aristocrats, has decided on a drastic measure: dispatch a force of swordsmen to the Southern Marshes of Ta, where live the barbarians who harvest Takusa sap. Mako believes that some casual beheadings and mutilations of the barbarians will force them into increasing their exports of sap to the cities of the North. 

The only problem is that the aristocrats, although fond of boasting of past glories as fighters and heroes, lack anyone with sufficient bravery and martial spirit to lead the swordsmen.

Tanee, the seductive Priestess and ally of the aristocrats, offers a solution: using her ability to project her consciousness across the gulf of interstellar space, she will find a warrior and transfer his mind and soul into the body of a Ta swordsman named Kengee.

Kenneth O'Hara is just another New Yorker trying to make a comfortable living in the Big Apple. Although a veteran of the Vietnam War, O'Hara spent his service as far from the fighting as possible, in the rear echelon. He has subsequently earned a living as a thief, con man, and gigolo.

One day a bewildered O'Hara finds himself waking up in a cave on the planet Ta, in the body of the warrior Kengee. Tanee tells him he is forever stranded on Ta, so he might as well go about making himself useful if he is to continue living........and this means leading the expedition of swordsmen against the Southern Marshes.

Kenneth O'Hara soon discovers that Ta is the strangest place imaginable.......and strangest of all are the Takusa plants, who seem to be the botanical embodiment of Playboy Bunnies........?! 

Can O'Hara / Kengee please his aristocratic masters.....stay in the good graces of the Takusa plants.....and avoid death at the hands of the Caste of the Assassins ? Even for a gifted deal-maker and con man, it's a tall order.........

'Ta' is a comedic sf novel, akin to those many comedic sf novels written by Ron Goulart and Robert Sheckley during the 1970s. I've never been a big fan of comedic sf, but Russell's novel is markedly superior to those of Goulart and Sheckley. It's humor is uniquely sarcastic, genuinely funny, showcases Un-Woke attitudes of the 1970s, and often had me laughing out loud. The plot is fast-moving and never short of twists and turns.

The only reason I didn't give 'Ta' five stars is that the final chapters rely too much on last-second escapes and fortuitous coincidences, giving the narrative a contrived note. But if you are interested in a fun read, then 'Ta' has my recommendation.

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