Book Review: Spacepaw by Gordon R. Dickson

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.

Gordon R Dickson

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Spacepaw by Gordon R. Dickson

  1. But I would never call any of Gordon R Dickson’s work New Wave… He never really tried to experiment, or be literary, etc. Haven’t read this one yet — I sort of enjoyed The Alien Way (1965)…. Have a few of his short story collections on the shelf.

    • Yeah that’s probably fair, I was thinking of the politics and social systems that seem to be present in many of his stories. This ain’t the best of them, but it was fun (eventually).

      • But New Wave was more about literary experimentation (Ellison, Moorcock, etc)…. Dickson was a traditionalist to the core 😉 He doesn’t even have much social commentary — or rather, in the works I’ve read of his… But they were earlier in the 60s.

      • Eh, I avoid Moorcock. Have not been impressed with the few of his I’ve read. I also don’t read sci-fi post 1980 (as of a few years ago) so I don’t know much about his recent stuff.

        My favorite New Wave authors are Malzberg and Effinger — although, they might be tad late… like half a year off when the movement supposedly ended. But, my favorite New Wave novel has to be Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968) — absolutely brilliant.

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