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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  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.

    1. 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).

      1. 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.

      2. That’s true. It’s been a while since I had a good Moorcock. The recent Doctor Who book he wrote was pretty disappointing.

      3. 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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