Flashback Fridays: But not a drop to drink . . .

You’re a human boy who is part of a colonial expedition to another planet called Ziax II.  That planet is inhabited by a humanoid race called the Imbur who are friends with the humans but has reservations about some of their actions.  Recently both the colonists and the native inhabitants have realized that the water supply–which has never been very large–is dwindling.  Unless you can help figure out what’s wrong, the drought may kill the entire planet . . .

Do you remember: 

The Drought on Ziax II by John Morressy, illustrated by Stan Skardinski (Walker & Company, 1979)

This is one for the obscure charts, though it’s not completely unheard of.  Toren is a young human boy in the human colony (the pioneers) on Ziax II.  He’s worked hard on befriending the local population of Imbur and learning from them.  But now both the Pioneers and the Imbur are in crisis.  Ziax II is a place where water has always been in small supply, but now even that amount is dwindling.  Soon there won’t be enough water for the fruit trees that the Imbur depend upon for food.

Toren’s people have been killing the sorks–these are large vicious creatures that are dangerous for humans.  The Imbur have figured out how to chant in a way that protects them from the sorks, but the humans have no such ability.  So they have been killing the vicious sorks when they find them..  Toren knows the Imbur do not approve–they disagree with the killing of animals, even one so nasty as a sork.  When the community finally discovers what’s causing the drought, it turns out to be a really nasty water sucking plant that pulls the water out of the soil, out of the air and out of bodies.  These plants are growing out of control because there are no sorks to eat them.  The Pioneers go out in search of possible sorks still alive somewhere on the planet who might now be their salvation.

This is one of those books that takes a very dull hammer with it’s message and really pounds it home.  Unbalancing the ecosystem is bad.  Not living in community with nature is bad and could cause the whole planet to suffer.  There’s nothing subtle about the point being made.  I’ve a copy of this book and I paged through it tonight.  The text is just not very lovely.  It’s serviceable for a young reader science fiction story, but it’s very pedestrian–more interested in getting the story across than how the sentences flow together.  And I’ll warn you now, the illustrations are pretty cringeworthy.

  (Here’s an image of the sork from the first book in the series, The Humans of Ziax II (1974))

Yes folks, there are two books about this planet and the people/settlers who live there.  While the story is unlikely to  be loved by adult readers of any stripe, what remains notable about it is that this  stuff was written for young readers–kids just getting into longer chapter books.  It’s the stuff that science fiction readers are made of because it’s one of the stepping stones that might intrigue a reader to find other books like it.  Granted, these particular books are not the finest examples, but titles are rare enough that these are worth noting.  If we ignore the awful illustrations and focus on the setting and story, it’s not a bad one.  Delivery of the story could likely have been better, but the lesson that removing one–seemingly unnecessary and dangerous–creature from an ecosystem can lead to disaster.  Likewise the idea of settling on another world, one so different from our own that the inhabitants can’t imagine what an ocean might be, is a worthy subject.

John Morressy was a science fiction and fantasy writer for adults as well as children and published over a dozen titles in his career.  Most well known appear to be his adult fantasy Kedrigern series.  The Ziax II stories are among his more obscure works, but I remember them intriguing me as a young science fiction reader as being something a little different from what I had been reading up until then.

No real information is available on the illustrator, Stan Skardinsky, save that he illustrated a handful of other books.  Given the caliber of the illustrations for these books, I’m guessing it was not a lucrative career.

Have you read this book?  Comments welcome!

About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on December 6, 2013, in Flashback Fridays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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