As in her 1985 debut novel The Planet Dweller, Jane Palmer likes to confront wildly eccentric but plausible humans with alien weirdness, producing offbeat SF comedy containing the occasional serious barb. Here a determinedly sceptical astronomer has an awesome UFO encounter, while an overweight, female and black geologist with a fondness for speaking in verse falls down a rabbit hole into an inhabited underworld. Besides the traditional lost race from Atlantis, there’s an alien beachhead down there, except they’re not aliens but Ealinans-former inhabitants of Earth (related to the dinosaurs) who’ve returned to put humanity through complicated hoops, just as we make rats run mazes. Meanwhile, a world-destroying comet is due to hit in five and a half weeks, while some unknown hand has been stealing nukes wholesale from our strategic arsenals. It all pivots on the Drune, an apparent android who has a finger in eveiy pie and a shifty line of dialogue. Why does the Drune live in those underground tunnels? "I like the view." Can dotty Earthlings, midget troglodytes, chatty machinery and the elusive Drune outwit callous Pyg, the Ealinan leader whose expression is unreadable because she keeps her mouth underneath her chin’? Palmer’s narrative bubbles with frivolous inventiveness and unhinged dialogue, and has a gentle sting in the tail. Lightweight fun.

David Langford

One look at the cover art and you know siraight away that The Drune is not going to be your average fantasy. Or science fiction. Or cautionary tale. Whatever. Normal it isn’t. Walton, stalwart science teacher, has come to the area of Green Willow Farm in search of a UFO. He has two definite goals: hunt down whatever appears in the photograph he pried from one of his students, and hang on to Wife Number Four. One misstep and he could end up empty-handed on both counts.

Akaylia, one of Britain’s more adventurous and peculiar geologists, is determined to see the inside of the volcano she has been chiselling around for some time. Considering that she is a force more unmovable than solid stone, chances are that she will find a way in. Whether either seeker will we be happy with what they find is the question.

Meanwhile, the military would really like to know where its missing nuclear warheads have gotten to.

Walton, Akaylia, and the warheads will all end up in an underground world unlike anything we have seen before. A creation of madness, audacity, and whimsy that seems too far-fetched to be only a product of Palmer’s imagination.

But, then, that’s the twisted path her imagination takes. Everything is greatly out of whack in Palmer’s universe; that’s what makes it so entertaining.

However bizarre the situation becomes though, Palmer keeps a steady eye on the characters. She knows people -- how they are and aren’t. The Brits she lovingly pokes fun at are quintessentially British, but utterly human. At times, it seems she knows us disquietingly well. If you see some of yourself in The Drune, take comfort; we’re all in there to some extent, whether we want to admit it or not.

Yes, it all seems like madness, but this is madness with a message. Palmer has some points to make about humans, civilization, and civility. The fact that she works them in to a wild, through-the-looking-glass adventure eases the lessons into the most resistant brain, with little or no pain.

If you take out the message, is it feather-weight entertainment? Maybe. Is it entertaining? Oh, definitely.

What? I’ve taken you this far and I still haven’t explained what a "Drune" is? How true! But that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Well, I’m afraid you will have to read the book to find the answer to that little question. You obviously wouldn’t want me to blab about the core of the book. And you are right. Thank you for restraining me.

Nothing, though, is going to stop me from demanding one of those wasps. If I’m very good this year, maybe I will get one lbr Robotukah. Like many of the characters in The Drune, you can’t put your finger on exactly what is that makes the wasps so appealing, you just know that -- like the book -- you’d be happy to make some room in your life for them.

Lisa DuMond SFF Site

"How do we know it's real? I sometimes get the feeling that the molecules in our minds are conspiring against us."
                            (Walton Clarke, pp. 8-9)

I suppose I should say, right at the outset, that I've loved Jane Palmer's books since I first read The Planet Dweller, back in 1986. Somehow managing to combine the riotously funny with a dry and piquant view of things that should be quite ordinary (but aren't, in Jane's hands!), the stories can be read on at least two levels. They're ideal to read when you need something a little different to give your chuckle quotient a boost: closer attention reveals wry social commentary delivered with a unique female slant. My only complaint is that they just aren't long enough!

The Drune is no exception. Jane's human characters are perfectly ordinary people. Well, kind of ordinary. Well, ordinary liberally spiced with eccentricity... Come in and meet Akaylia Jackson, radical geologist and poet extraordinaire, Walton Clarke ("I'm an astronomer, not a Witch-Finder General."), Uncle Arthur and his UFOs, and Poppy and Bryony the art students. Then there are the decidedly extraordinary characters - the Ossiane, Pyg, Rabette, articulate statuary, post wasps and errand moles. And as for the eponymous Drune... yumm!

And the story itself is the most remarkable blend of sci-fi, fantasy, the self-defeating effects of bigotry, power, control, love, self-sacrifice - and the ending is simply perfect. Reading this book is like taking a careering, perception-altering voyage of discovery into an entirely new (and slightly disconcerting) world. Jane has the rare ability to write the completely impossible and make it perfectly believable. Highly recommended!

Now, how do I get to Avacynth..?

Joules Taylor

The title character, the Drune, is actually an errant or misfunctioning android who ultimately holds the fate of our world in its hands.

Various characters, both human and alien are there to put it right, even if they aren’t always aware of the problem.

Palmer strives to put everything in from flying saucer myths to secret underground caverns deep beneath the Earth bringing this rather odd mixture together.

This book is more a variation of character study than actual plot. By that, I mean we tend to see the events at a distance from mostly supporting characters than necessarily up close through those characters who really make the difference.

The alien captain is as much an enigma at both ends of the story. Most of the time, this works out and relies on Palmer’s own writing strengths even if it does take a bit of figuring out where everyone is at the end.

The descriptive detail is strong enough to visualise all that is happening and certainly page-turning readable.

GF Willmetts Crowsnest Books

 The Drune is a witty and original science-fiction novel. The author’s imagination takes the reader to a fantastic and surprising world of which she has studied every detail to make it real’. Jane Palmer’s fabulous and complex universe is pleasantly refreshing even if it doesn’t aim at being pure entertainment.

Ms Akaylia Jackson, a geologist, and Walton, an astronomer, find themselves threading a puzzling underworld. Akaylia, despite her formidable bulk, falls in it through a small hole, while Walton is kidnapped by a monstrous creature who drags him under with the magnetic force of a sticky ‘ten-ton candyfloss’. Both discover the flora and fauna peopling this dimension:

the Ossianes, the Ealinans and the dark hero, the ‘Drune’.

Ealinans descend from dinosaurs: ‘Their (the Ealinans) idea of altruism was evolved from Tyrannosaurus Rex. They are cruel, logical and so technically advanced they don’t have to bother with compassion ...’ In fact, the power-crazed species has come back to the earth to dominate humans, any parallel with the ‘rush for power’ of ‘real’ human beings is of course accidental. The only creature who manages to confuse Pyg, the Ealinan’s leader, if only in passing, is Rabette, a very small and flimsy albino: ‘why have the Ealinans travelled light years to invade the earth?’ Pyg is momentarily baffled: ‘the Ealinans love the idea of control’ is the answer which explains what prompted them to organise this long and dangerous expedition.

Another underworld civilisation is that of the ‘Ossianes’ from Rosipolees, a lovely city with beautiful alleys adorned by fountains and statues. Their description does justice to the author’s inventiveness: ‘One of the translucent statues was bowl-like, with a long proboscis and diffused with a comfortable orange light. Its nearest companion, on a low plinth beside it, was more uprightly regal. They had several arms reaching down to touch the pavement and as many colours passing up and down them’. These sculptures are robots who supervise the town’s smooth running and are programmed to ‘gossip’, to add a human touch, so that Rosipolees’ high street is like that of any middle-sized centre.

The narrative’s main character, as the title suggests, is the ‘Drune’. He first appears as dangerous and devoted to Pyg’s evil plans. In fact, contrary to everybody’s belief, he reveals himself to he ‘living’ and not a robot: ‘Rabette gazed into the Drune’s purple eyes. How could he have looked into their hypnotizing depths before and not known the creature was mortal? They glittered with life and resentment. Rabette found himself pondering on the nature of the Drune.’ Its species (the Drune is a non-gender’) was persecuted by the Ossianes who were afraid of their great intellectual potential — is this a veiled reference to chauvinism and its causes? It is the numerous humiliations the creature has suffered which have led it to become cruel and remorseless. However, as it shows in the end, it is not devoid of feelings.

The Drune is a tale of tolerance, denouncing the dangers of power-lust. Ossianes oppress non-genders because they are different and they fear their intellectual capacity; Rabette exclaims to Akaylia: ‘Just look at me! How many humans do you think would be prepared to accept us?’ The unfamiliar, what is alien to daily routine, is perceived as a threat. Greed also emerges in the unscrupulous pursuit of financial profit. Rosipolees’ modern architecture is described by Rabette as a little dreary’; Akaylia doesn’t answer ‘as she didn’t like to admit it was nowhere nearly as bad as her local town.’ We are all familiar with the damages inflicted on the environment by reckless exploitation.

Lastly, a word must be said about the author’s humour. Akaylia expresses herself in rhymes: ‘Wonder of Wonders, to ever be true. I am Akaylia. What are you?’ she asks Rabette the first time they meet. When Rabette tells her that he would fancy living above ground she exclaims: ‘What? With your absence of suntan? I’ve seen more colour in a vanilla meringue.’ Akaylia and Walton decide to keep their adventure secret for fear that pizza and hamburger restaurants would thrive in these depths and that hordes of tourists would descend upon this mysterious dimension.

Jane Palmer’s lively, bubbling and buzzing universe is a gentle call for a more harmonious, tolerant and generous society.

Martha Fumagalli WiPlash