There are many eras of fantastic science fiction that I adore and Gordon R Dickson’s Spacepaw (1969) comes in at the end of the New Wave – one of the odder eras. Maybe at the moment I’m just suffering from a terrible habit of reading those less well known books by authors I love. I suppose that becomes inevitable once you’ve read all the really good and popular ones. For example, I delightedly consumed Dickson’s Dorsai! series when I was much younger – partly I loved them for the ’80s edition covers – all those awesome and irrelevant spaceships and alien landscapes, but mainly I enjoyed the pulpy feeling space opera setting and the clever resolutions to conflicts. I suppose I was hoping for more of the same.
Those are hardly fair criticisms of a totally different book though… Spacepaw is the story of a man sent to help the Dilbians (they live on Dilbia) progress agriculturally. They are a huge, bumbling, bear-like people with different ways and customs (etc.) with whom our hero has to learn to interact. I found the first fifty pages or so quite irritating. For one thing, the main character is not appealing, he’s a bit of a dick, and so are most of the other characters. I was also deeply annoyed by the constant talk of “settling his/her/our/everyone’s hash” – that and other phrases weirdly undermine the alien world.
I got into eventually, and did enjoy the outcome, despite it being rather hurried and a very much “so that’s how it all happened really, isn’t that clever” expository ending. And no, it wasn’t especially clever, but it was quite fun. The main reason I read it (and reviewed the book) was the truly dreadful cover illustration. It looks like a shaved dog with eyebrows. There are other alternative covers, but none quite so awful. It should have been a sign.
- Book Review: Nodal Convergence (captainpigheart.com)