Thursday, September 6, 2012

Book Review: 'Ancient, My Enemy' by Gordon R. Dickson

2 / 5 Stars

‘Ancient, My Enemy’ was first published in hardback by Doubleday in 1974. This DAW paperback (No. 190, 206 pp.) was released in April 1976 and features a cover illustration by Eddie Jones. DAW released another paperback printing in July of 1980, this time with a striking, orange-tinted cover by Greg Theakston.

All of the stories in ‘Ancient’ were first printed in the 50s and 60s in various sf magazines and digests.

My brief summaries of the contents:

Ancient, My Enemy: on a desert planet, Terran prospectors confront hostile natives. The story struggles a bit in trying to say something profound about humanitys' inherent prediliction towards violence.

The Odd Ones: two aliens look on and philosophize, as a Terran couple struggle to survive their first year on a colony planet.

The Monkey Wrench: a variant on the sf cliché of the powerful, all-knowing computer reduced to imbecility when asked to solve a paradox.

Tiger Green: the crew of a spaceship must solve the riddle of an alien ecology before they all succumb to a fatal madness.

The Friendly Man: a man who travels 50,000 years into the future finds his reception to be a bit too comfortable.

Love Me True: a crewman is lost without the cuddly alien he illegally brought back from a starship voyage.

Our First Death: on a bleak planet, members of a colony confront their internal divisions.

In the Bone: bereft of weapons, a lone earthman must find a way to defeat a seemingly invincible alien. The best story in the collection.

The Bleak and Barren Land: labored tale of a Federation agent mediating conflict between the natives of a planet and Terran colonists.

On the whole, ‘Ancient’ is very unremarkable, serving as an example of the type of short fiction that dominated sf publishing in the years prior to the New Wave movement.

Dickson’s writing is not particularly accomplished, suffering from the adverb-centered syntax that regularly plagued the prose of the pulp era. You will find characters who regularly roar with laughter, smile mockingly, laugh barkingly, say things croakingly, say things flatly, say things thickly, etc., etc.

The setting and plotting of these stories are bland and derivative, sticking to tried and true sf tropes.

To be fair to Dickson, the magazine and digest editors of the 50s and 60s tended to want a particularly style of material in their story submissions, and for writers who earned their living selling to these outlets, taking the salable route was more financially prudent that attempting to upset the publishing apple cart with highly novel or imaginative submissions.

I can only really recommend ‘Ancient, My Enemy’ to hard-core Dickson fans.

1 comment:

Kate Andrews said...

I like this book. It was very interesting to read. I am trying to download this book in PC right now.
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