Frustratingly tedious dialogue moves nowhere (1/5)
In the Bone
(1987). He can write some great short work with clever unfolding and
wrapping up. The same can't be said for the two novels I've read.
Rear cover synopsis:
ancient starship La Chasse Gallerie is found drifting perilously in
space. Despite heavy damage from alien Laagi warships, incredibly the
ship is still intact and the voice of its pilot, Raoul Penard, comes
through loud and clear. But Penard died over one hundred years ago... On
earth, frantic investigation reveals that Penard may be dead but his
mind is very much alive.. merged with the ship itself. The staggering
potential of this evolutionary breakthrough compels the scientists to
embark on a technological journey of astonishing discovery..."
Wander is an ace space fighter pilot who loves his ship, AndFriend.
When a call from General Mollen comes, Jim is eager to return to flight
and fight the Laagi aliens in the space border between the two
civilizations. However, the word comes that a 100 year old derelict ship
has been found within the Laagi sphere of influence, a border war which
has spanned five generations. The ship rings of the voice of its pilot,
and the mission is to return with the ship and pilot intact. Aboard
with Jim is the psychologist Mary Gallagher.
After recovery of
the vehicle, it's soon revealed that the pilot had died decades ago but
still lived on as an insane non-corporal form; the pilot had
miraculously transfered his mind into the structure of this ship!
Because of Jim's proximity to this earth-shattering discovery he is
detained in the same building as the laboratory which investigates the
mind of the insane disembodied pilot and the ship he resides in. Now the
science is in the hands of the military: "the living human essence
could exist independently of the normal human biochemical machinery"
(47) which "breaks loose from the rest under the strain of what, to the
person involved, is an intolerable situation." (59)
finds himself under such intolerable strain as he's kept away from his
pride and joy: his fighter AndFriend. Mary and Mollen have schemed to
place Jim's "essence" into his fighter for a secret mission based on
information gathered from the rambling pilot of the stricken vessel he
helped save. Mary, too, has left her body to ride shotgun on the trip
around Laagi space. Together, they are aiming from the region of space
closer to the galactic core.
But again, Jim plays the part of the
pawn when Mary allows the ship to be captured by Laagi forces. The
alien race, culture and physiology unknown to humans, is set to be under
examination by the psychologist with methods learned from the "essence"
displacement. What they discover on the alien planet is a mystery which
serves for long-term study and extensive examination, all of which they
must undertaken while being embodied in the captured ship.
premise sounds excellent with alien cultural anthropology as the main
focus of Jim and Mary's Laagi region exploration. Unable to leave the
ship, they embed a sliver of the ship into the body of a janitor. This
enables Jim to impart some of his essence in the commanding of the
low-intelligence alien, whose species acts as servants to the larger
Laagi. Jim has a hypnotic lock placed on his capabilities with the ship
while Mary pours over the abundance of information being fed through the
eyes of the little janitor alien.
In regards to the
xeno-anthropology, the Laagi civilization in very interesting. The Laagi
aliens are driven to work and only work. There's no sign of art or
leisure time with all their waking time being dedicated to work. They
even hunker down and takes naps while working. They have a butler
species, nicknamed the Squonks, which have a similar sleep and work
pattern. When either the Laagi or the Squonks die during their duties
they are simply removed and placed with the other trash. The treatment
of the Squonk that Jim and Mary employee can be seen as a sort of
torture. Given that work satisfaction is what the alien enjoys, they
torture by sending the little creature on a quest through the city to
find a nonexistent key, thereby robbing the Squonk of any satisfaction
from completing his task. The Squonk is simply used as a vessel to
witness the customs of the Laagi race. This just adds a whole new level
of dislike for Jim and Mary. Jim's frustration builds for months
while they overwork the poor butler-cum-snoop. The alien's culture is
interesting enough to warrant to novel a high rating... if it weren't
for the perpetual back-and-forth dialogue.
The 375-page novel is simply too long
to have tiresome ping-ponging dialogue through and through. There's
also hypothesizing between Jim and Mary, arguments, moody outbursts,
grand assumptions, and casual information diarrhea. If either of the two
characters were written to be likable, then Dickson failed miserably
because the duo are quarrelsome with Jim being the hotshot pilot
know-it-all with always accurate assumptions and a encyclopedic
knowledge base; contrastively is the ever questioning female who's
submissive to demands, asking for forgiveness, and always on the heels
of Jim's assumptions resulting in argument after argument. This
ping-pong dialogue stretches for scores of pages even when they finally
reach the space beyond the rear of the Laagi frontier. The dialogue
becomes steeped in the basics of initial language contact becoming drawn
out, tedious, tedious, tedious, tedious, and unmoving.
like Dickson wrote his novel like a shot from the hip, typing words that
streamed from his mind to never become edited. There are chunks of
pages which are dedicated singlehandedly to interstellar navigation...
which is all basically unfathomable. The navigation technique is
referred to later in the book but I had very little foundation, even
after 8 pages of dialogue about navigation, to understand the
importance. It's one of the more shoulder-shrugging aspects of the book
besides some awkwardly written passages which, again, read as if shot
from hip: "[...] he thought of human dancing, real dancing, and he had
to admit to himself that in essence, it was communication in a sense."
(314) Some sentences beg to be reread because, as petty as they are, the
message within was conveyed in a convoluted manner.
sounded as an interesting premise of essence displacement ultimately
weighed down the possibilities of the plot. With Jim and Mary stranded
within the confines of a metallic hull, only speculative dialogue can
occur in tedious chapter after tedious chapter. There's a serious lack
of "oomph" which propels the plot to a grand conclusion. Instead of that
oomph, the reader is given a plodding plot that tiptoes and ping-pongs
until the last page of the book, where a raised eyebrow or pained
grimace meets the closing words, "[...] and they walked out together."
(375) I will happily part ways with this book. Dorsai may eventually
be purchased and read but I hesitate to dive in. I do, however, lustily
eye another Dickson collection on my shelves: Mutants (1970).