Doris Piserchia’s 1974 Star Rider is a stand-alone science fiction novel.
Like the rest of her Jakalowar (or Jak1for short) kin, Jade and Hinx, (her mind-linked, dog-derived mount) can jink(teleport) from world to world at will, carrying their own bubbles of breathable air as well. The entire Milky Way is the Jaks’ playground. The problem is that none of the Jaks have the range to leap to another galaxy. Thus, the hedonist nomads are trapped in one puny galaxy.
Luckily, the Jaks have Doubleluck. Well, in a sense.
Doubleluck is a combination El Dorado-Oleanna, a planet where the land is green, each fruit more delicious than the last, and life is swell. Doubleluck has only one flaw, but it is a doozy. The Jaks have been searching for it for the better part of two million years. Thus far, no one has found the fabled paradise or if they have, none have returned from it.
Jade is an illiterate teenager, abandoned as a baby by her parents to fend for herself on a garden world. This is a common pattern for Jaks, who are cool on the idea of personal responsibility and two million years of evolution have selected for Jaks who can survive this negligent approach to parenting. Jade and her dog-derived Mount Hinx spent their days jinking from planet to planet, occasionally panhandling when necessary. She is not the sort of person who seems likely to affect history, and yet she will.
By pure luck, Jade and Hinx stumble over the cunningly concealed Doubleluck. Jade realizes that what seems to be just some weird space phenomenon is in fact a barrier of concealment around the fabled planet. However, the planet is not protected by invisibility alone: it has a designated guardian, Big Jaks, who takes a dim view of the girl’s inquisitiveness.
Even more inconveniently for the teen, there exists an oubliette into which Big Jak can deposit Jade with fair assurance that he will never see her again: Gibraltar. Gibraltar’s humans took entirely different paths than the Jaks. The Gibs live much as humans did on Earth two million years ago. They are watched over by the officious, rather dim and quite inbred dreen. Like Jaks, dreen can jink but they lack the Jak playfulness.
The choices offered on Gibraltar are twofold: embrace the regimented, workaholic Gib lifestyle, or be forcibly married to a dreen to expand their impressively limited gene pool. Neither appeals to Jade. Instead, she ends two million years of social stasis.
I’ve used the original cover. However, because I read very few Doris Piserchia novels in the 1970s, I never owned that edition. Instead, I have the most recent ebook, whose cover art proudly proclaims that the artist didn’t read the book.
Jaks don’t use starships, and neither do dreen. The Gibs might but they don’t travel off their world.
Not that earlier editions didn’t take liberties. The Pfeiffer cover on the first edition depicts Hinx as a space horse, when the text makes it very clear he is a space dog.
That detail was corrected in John Palencar’s 1983 cover.
Serge Clerc’s portrays Jade as a busty woman in go-go boots; it’s a plot point that the Jaks are all androgynous.
Vicente Segrelles simply opted for a naked woman, promising German readers lasciviousness that is simply not realized, because Jade is a teenager who has no interest in that sort of thing and the fact that at least one dreen thinks she should be is a sign of his being a creepy predator.
By the way, that last cover isn’t safe for work so I hope you’re reading this on your own time.
Humans have a tendency to impose order on chaos. Accordingly, the description above may give the impression of a more orderly plot than Piserchia actually provided. Much of the novel consists of unexpected encounters, daring escapes, recaptures, escapes, and a very annoying hat. It’s rather chaotic and the destination to which the plot, such as it is, turns out to have been drunkard’s walking its way toward does not manifest until near the end.
Piserchia’s faith that she didn’t need to start with a massive infodump explaining what’s going on is heartening. She trusts the reader to catch up on the fly. It is a pity that the plot is not more coherent (and that Piserchia doesn’t have more of a sense of scale) because the setting is enchanting. Who doesn’t want to read about hedonistic space nomads jinking their way from world to world in a galaxy of four hundred billion stars2?
1: In a robust rejection of the One Steve rule, Jade’s people are called Jaks but there is also a character called Big Jak.
2: Estimates of the number of stars in the Milky Way subject to revision without notice.