Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, May 14, 2012

1965: Mission to Universe (Dickson, Gordon R.)

Poor execution after a warmly ominous start (2/5)
From June 29, 2011

Having never read any Dickson before, I did a bit of research on him and found that he's best described as a romanticized sci-fi writer, which told me one thing: he sticks to sci-fi tradition. Being "romantic" is just about the only adjective given to the man, so my initial hopes were low. I know of his Dorsai series but it seems to be hard to find in these here parts. It's a must-buy for me but after reading Mission to Universe, I'm reluctant to pick up another Dickson novel of any sort: classic, relatively unknown, or short story collection.

Rear cover synopsis:

"General Benjamin Shore was heading for the stars under forged orders - and in defiance of the commands of the President. He was leaving Earth in an untested ship with a crew chosen by necessity and with nothing but faith to guide him. His only hope was to find habitable worlds in the unexplored reaches of space ahead. Thus began Man's first mission to the uncharted universe. Shore had no illusions. Before him lay danger, probable disappointment - even death. But nothing had prepared him for the nightmare he would have to face on the planet of the Gray-Furs... for the menace of the Golden People who had driven all other races from Galactic Center--or for what awaited him if he returned to the world he called home!"

The two chapters (of thirteen) of Mission to Universe are ripe with potential: Benjamin Shore quietly assembles his crew in the dead of the night, awaking their prone bodies to congregate in the shift-ship. With presidential orders in hand denying the launch of the ship to orbit, Benjamin alters the order and tells his crew to prepare to embark to earth orbit, to Andromeda and beyond. The mainly narrative text of the first two chapters has a creepy, ominous aura to it. It's a sinister invitation not traditional in any sense.

Thereafter, from chapters three to thirteen, we witness why Dickson has been described as romantic: the ship's air recycler needs repair so they land on a planet with tragic consequences, they land on another planet with tragic consequences... and yet again, and again. It's almost as if Dickson wrote the novel by stream-of-thought, himself thinking, "OK, now that I've written them into this situation, how will I write them OUT of it?" What follows is a ragtag attempt to snare the reader into the adventure and danger of the shift-ship's journey to Andromeda.

Nothing very clever ever surfaces from Mission to Universe. There are many dead ends in the details, like the stowaway cat which plays no part through the novel and only goes to characterize the female love interest as girly and to draw her closer to Benjamin (I had other grander ideas of why the cat was on the ship). When the ship discovers life on two planets, I could quickly draw conclusions as to the state of their civilizations. Dickson may have written Benjamin as a quick thinker, but he never saw me coming.

(And you can't put yourself into orbit around a planet without having any velocity. The shift-ship only shifts and has no means to physically propel itself. Dumb point, but still.)

All in all, it may have been written for the YA age bracket. When the rear cover synopsis reads "A riveting space adventure," that kind of language gives it away. BUT, like I said about the first two chapters, there is potential in Dickson and I've already bought a short story collection In the Bone and another lengthier novel entitled The Forever Man. I won't whitewash Dickson with criticism yet, but he already has negative marks in my book.

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