Alan Dean Foster’s 1974 Icerigger is the first volume in the Icerigger Trilogy. It is set in Foster’s Humanx Commonwealth.
Interstellar salesman Ethan Frome Fortune planned to visit the desolate iceworld Tran-ky-ky just long enough to sell some knickknacks. Instead, he stumbled over a kidnapping in progress. Fortune’s inopportune appearance was only the first thing that went wrong with the kidnappers’ plans.
One shuttle crash later and Fortune and his companions are trapped on Tran-ky-ky. The wrong side of Tran-ky-ky, thousands of kilometers from the only Commonwealth base on the planet…
The castaways are a diverse lot.
Fortune, a travelling salesman
Hellespont du Kane, fantastically wealthy businessman
Colette du Kane, Hellespont’s abrasive, unattractive daughter
Skua September, two-fisted adventurer
Milliken Williams, schoolteacher
Walter No Last Name Given, the lone surviving would-be kidnapper
For the most part, their skills are not obviously applicable to the problem of circumnavigating a world in the grip of an ice age so severe that the equatorial oceans are frozen over. Skua may be the single exception, but while he is willing to do his part where tactical derring-do is concerned, he insists that someone else deal with strategy. Specifically Fortune.
Luck smiles on the castaways. They came down close to Wannome, a Trannish stronghold. A party of natives soon appears, curious about the metal object that fell from the sky. Sir Hunnar and his fellow warriors are cautious but hospitable; in short order the humans find haven in Wannome.
Their safety is only temporary. Wannome is subject to periodic visits from the Horde, nomadic barbarians who demand tribute from all who live within their range. For a century, Wannome has tolerated this because they had no other choice. Now they believe they have a good chance of defeating the Horde.
If they are wrong, everyone in the town will die. Their deaths may be lingering and terrible. The humans will not be spared. If Fortune and the others want to survive, they will have to somehow tilt the war in their hosts’ favour…
Icerigger is a typical two-fisted planetary adventure. The planet is challenging in an implausible way1; the wildlife is generally carnivorous and uninhibited by the square-cube law; the Horde is unpleasant. Foster does at least seem to understand that planets are quite large and that even ice worlds display a variety of climates and biomes.
As is often the case in adventures of this sort, most of the humans have skills that are directly applicable to warfare: Skua is a mighty warrior, du Kane is a skilled manager when he’s not having a fit of senility, and Williams knows many useful things, not least of which is the formula for black powder. Fortune, the protagonist, has plot immunity. The only useless non-combatants are Walther, who is painfully aware that mindwipe waits for him if the group ever gets back to civilization … and Colette.
Foster may have been trying to be daring by giving Fortune a woman to rescue who isn’t beautiful or effusively grateful when rescued. Also, Colette is fat, in a culture where this is considered unattractive and where everyone feels free to remind her that she is fat and unattractive.
“Why aren’t you beautiful?” he said idiotically. “Damsels in distress are always beautiful.” He smiled, intending it as a joke, but she saw it otherwise.
That’s when the other characters are not discussing among themselves how unfortunate it is that a woman so rich is so ugly and of irritable temperament as well.
And the girl …” Ethan’s expression wrinkled in confusion when he thought about Colette. “She seems competent enough … maybe even more than that. But she’s so full of bitterness and bile …”
“About her looks?” prompted September. Ethan nodded. “Too bad … all that credit and built like a marshmallow. Sinful, positively sinful.
At least Colette is acknowledged as competent, even if not much is done with her competence. In fact, it turns out her father is intermittently senile and she’s been managing his company, and his finances, for years (but behind the scenes). One might wonder why control of the company hadn’t devolved to her … had this not been a SF novel published in 1974. Foster could imagine faster than light drives and an interspecies commonwealth but not one, apparently, in which a talented woman could head a company2.
The reader of the 70s may have seen Colette’s fate as a happy ending. She proposes marriage to Fortune on the grounds that she could do worse:
“Who said anything about love? I’m asking you to marry me! You’re reasonably attractive, reasonably intelligent — and kinder than most. The only people who ask me to marry them are money-hunters. I can read the contempt in their eyes. There’s no contempt in yours. A little pity, but I’m used to that.”
1: I wouldn’t expect a snowball world to have whale-sized creatures galumphing across the ice at high speed. Really, feeding anything of significant size should be a challenge, except Tran-ky-ky’s plants are good at growing through ice.
Tran-ky-ky froze over only recently, which raises a lot of questions. Some of which may have been answered in the sequels.
2: Well, the head of the Horde is female, but also evil. There are a number of powerful but evil women in Alan Dean Foster novels.