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This is a stand-alone novel I read in the early 90s, probably around 1994. More space adventure than serious extrapolation or idea SF. Despite the setting it didn't have the noir aspects that became popular later, or with other authors. My recollection is that it was close in feel to something by Alan Dean Foster or maybe Harry Harrison, but I've just scanned through their books and it doesn't look like either of those.

The story opens with the (young, male) protagonist being dropped off on a prison planet. (We find out later that he was framed for a capital crime and he suspects a commercial competitor of having arranged it.) He meets a "welcoming committee" that relieves him of the burden of all of his useful goods, and gifts him with a beating.

He makes it into the one-road town and manages to get enough help from a couple of people to get a meal and get oriented. My mental image of the town is that it had wide dirt roads with high boardwalks alongside; later in the novel we may see the roads flooded by seasonal rains. He eventually ends up being indentured/apprenticed to an older hunter who is a bit of a loner but respected by other people.

He and the hunter head out into the swamps. I think at this point the hunter blindfolds him so that the protagonist doesn't learn where the hunter's real hideout is. They go hunting for native creatures, some of which could be described as dinosauroids, which they skin (dino leather makes good boots) and others they mainly butcher for glands which are sold off-world.

I may be conflating a different novel, because otherwise I recall them using slug-throwers, but it may be that one of the creatures they hunt is like a huge floating ball, that hunts by rolling over its prey. This one is hunted using a laser-type weapon that is described as carving a vertical line into the creature as it rolls toward them. The laser finally kills it by frying its brain; this is the creature that has the valuable glands.

(Even though transportation to the prison planet is one-way, there is still two-way trade with the rest of the galaxy. At a minimum they sell dino glands and buy weapons for hunting dinos with.)

Early in his experience as a hunter the protagonist is sitting on the bow of the boat, unaware that he is being stalked by an aerial predator that may resemble a pterosaur. The hunter kills it as it swoops in to attack; he figures he combined an object lesson with bagging some game.

The protagonist learns to be a competent hunter, becomes more of a partner to the hunter. He is trusted with the location of the hideout. At some point the hunter dies; I no longer recall if this was because a gang tried to find/attack the hideout, or if there was a hunting accident. (They were hunting some quite large and dangerous critters.)

At this point, the story takes a turn; there is an archaeological expedition from off-world sent to explore some ruins on the planet. The protagonist may already have found the ruins, or he may simply have been hired to accompany the expedition as a guide. Of course he has to protect them; there are encounters with native wildlife and probably human wildlife as well.

I think the expedition was successful, but at any rate the expedition leaders decide that for helping them the protagonist should be brought with them off-world. (Or perhaps they were evacuated and he just got brought along.) At any rate, the political heft of the expedition leader is sufficient for the protagonist's criminal case to be re-opened and he is exonerated.

  • Lorendiac has his prison planet question, now I have mine. :) – DavidW Jun 18 at 14:54
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This is Prison Planet by William C. Dietz.

The protagonist Jonathan Renn is sentenced to the prison planet, called Swamp, as you describe, but he is accompanied by an intelligent dog called Marla:

Although she looked like a rather large German Shepherd, Marla was much, much more. She weighed about two hundred pounds, had durasteel teeth and claws, enhanced infrared vision, multi-freq audio intercept, powerassisted musculature, and the full intelligence of a female human with a tested IQ of 125.

Renn is indeed robbed and beaten up as soon as he is left on the prison planet.

The dinosauroids are described as:

The planet's economy was centered on one thing, monster hunting. Monsters came in various shapes and sizes, some having more commercial value than others, and some being more difficult to kill.

Basically, monsters fell into one of two commercial categories, which were referred to as "stinks" and "skins." "Stinks" it seemed, were hunted primarily for a small hormonal gland located near the third of their seven sub-brains, which when properly treated, yielded the main ingredient for some very exotic and expensive perfumes. Repeated attempts at synthesis had so far failed, making Swamp the only source of this valuable stuff.

The hunter is Boater Smith. Renn is indentured to him for a year:

A few minutes later the meeting broke up, Renn thumbprinted a standard one-year contract complete with a five-percent clause, and became the temporary property of Boater Smith, one-time crime lord, now monster hunter.

Boater is killed by the same gang that robbed and beat Renn when he first landed on the planet.

  • This is definitely correct. I can't believe I forgot about the killer dog, though... – DavidW Jun 18 at 18:17

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