Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Review: 'Wolfling' by Gordon R. Dickson

2 / 5 Stars

‘Wolfling’ was originally published as a serial in Analog in 1969; this Dell paperback edition (157 pp), with a cover illustration by Maelo Cintron, was released in December, 1980.

Earth has achieved intersteller flight and with it, the realization that not only does there exist a galactic Federation, but it is ruled by a race of 7 feet-tall humanoid aristocrats, labeled the High-Born. 

From their homeworld of the Throne World, the High Born control government, commerce, and travel among all federation planets.

As a means of getting access to the High Born, an apprehensive Terra decides to recruit special agent Jim Keil, a taciturn, introspective man with degrees in anthropology, history, and chemistry. Jim Keil also excels at hand-to-hand fighting, memorizing information, and  understanding cultural nuances and interactions – in short, he is a standard-issue Gordon R. Dickson ‘Superman’.

Keil makes his way to the planet of Alpha Centauri III, and there displays such prowess in a bullfight that an impressed High Born delegation elects to have him join them at the Throne World.

Once on the Throne World, Jim Keil discovers that the High Born are a race of overconfident, self-absorbed decadents, with all manner of schemes and plots underway to overthrow their Emperor.

Jim finds himself in a race to learn as much as he can of the High Born's dysfunctional culture, for only by interposing himself into palace intrigue can he avert a possible disaster for Earth.

But the High Born have little intention of letting a wolfling – a primitive barbarian from a backwater planet – interfere with their machinations……

‘Wolfling’ is another readable, but unremarkable, early-career space opera from Dickson.

The novel’s focus on underlying themes of anthropology and sociology are a nod to the influence of the New Wave movement, but the narrative itself is firmly styled on the sort of traditional sf adventure that was part and parcel of stories and novelettes appearing in Analog during the 50s and 60s.  

The final chapter uses a courtroom setting to provide the reader with various plot revelations; the rationale for these revelations is overly contrived and unconvincing.

Dickson completists will want to have a copy of ‘Wolfling’, but all others may be excused.

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