Funny and reflective—humor, duty and chance on display (4/5)
I’ve read three Dickson novels, only one of which, The Alien Way (1965), could stand on its own two feet. Two of his other novels slumped to the ground on their gelatinous legs of tedious dialogue or lack of wonder: Mission to Universe (1965) and TheForever Man (1986). I’m skeptical about Dickson’s novels because of this experience, but I do, however, relish the opportunity to pick up one of his collections! I had the pleasure of reading his “best of the best” in In the Bone (1987), which held a plethora of fun, wit, and uniqueness.
Mutants is Dickson’s first collection. Two stories, “Of the People” (1955) and “Idiot Solvant” (1962), are also in In the Bone, but Mutants has the rare addition of “Miss Prinks”, a bizarre-from-the-start story which is sure to titillate. With “Miss Prinks” and “Idiot Solvant” providing the entertainment of humor, other stories offers words of duty and chance—the perils of accepting, the challenges of persisting, and the drawbacks of following through with both.
Warrior (1965, shortstory) – 4/5 – Tyburn, of the Manhattan Complex police, waits for a Dorsai man, Ian Graeme, to arrive on Earth. The military man is instantly put under suspicion of the likelihood of committing murder against millionaire James Kenebuck. Ian served with James’ brother, Brian Kenebuck, where Brian led thirty-two men and himself to death. Ian came because of his sense of duty, but Tyburn keeps a watchful eye on Ian as the military man visits James. 22 pages
Of the People (1955, shortstory) – 3/5 – Secretly the head of numerous companies which manufacture his dozens of inventions and designs, Sam Grossman is a man of money, respect, fame, and power. A sense envelops Sam one day and so flees his city penthouse for a private flight to Bombay, where he walks north for six weeks in order to seek guidance from a special guru. He has ample time to arrive. 5 pages
Danger—Human! (1957, shortstory) – 4/5 – An ursine race of aliens is aware of three separate diasporas and cultural conquests of a humanoid species—humankind is the prime suspect. The legend of humankind’s ferociousness and explosiveness makes the aliens cautious regarding their kidnapping of one human—Eldridge Timothy Parker. Imprisoned on their planet, he’s surrounded by guards, brass bars, an acid moat, and an energy wall. With the subject safely secured, now they can observe its true nature. 19 pages
Rehabilitated (1961, shortstory) – 3/5 – Jack Heimelmann just ordered his last drink. A late-twenty-year old and high school drop-out, Jack has an unspectacular history and an even dimmer future, until Peer Ambrose takes him under his wing. In what Jack calls “the Mission”, he’s given the job of operating an elevator. Also he’s seeing the on-site psychologist to cure the source of his drinking problem and relearning the things from school. Now, at Peer’s request, is his once chance to emigrant off the planet. 15 pages
Listen (1952, shortstory) – 3/5 – “The only reason humans have successfully conquered throughout the galaxy is because they have always respected the attitudes and opinions of the people they conquered” (70). A four-year old boy named Teddy is watched by one of the native aliens, Reru of the Mirian race. While at Teddy’s favorite play place, a swamp Teddy calls “the silver-and-green place”, Reru tells him of its origin and importance, yet Teddy’s father doesn’t seem to respect the Mirian love for their world. 7 pages
Roofs of Silver (1962, novelette) – 4/5 – Above one of mankind’s colonized planets orbits a centennial survey ship. Moran and Jabe are on the ground to assess the adaptability of the local humans—one group of social silver miners and another population of anti-social scavengers. Jabe kills Moran because of his belief that the scavengers have de-volved, so Jabe enters the human society with his emotion recorder in order to prove Moran wrong. When he meets one such outcast, his acts don’t match his intelligence… much like the townsfolk. 26 pages
By New Hearth Fires (1959, shortstory) – 4/5 – “The last dog on Earth [Alpha] was dying. It was a small, but important, crisis” (103). Unable to revive the ill dog into play, appetite or spirit, the curator of Earth, now a museum, sends for Dr. Anius, a famous historical psychologist. With him is his son Geni who becomes interested in Earth’s past yet also takes a liking to the moping dog. Geni takes Alpha, Earth’s last dog, on a walk when he loses the pooch to its nature. 18 pages
Idiot Solvant (1962, shortstory) – 5/5 – Eccentric yet highly intelligent, Art Willoughby is also pressed for cash, so he signs up for a medical trial where he confesses his third unique trait—perpetual sleeplessness. Under observation, Art keeps his sleepless state for ten days while running as his full intellectual capacity. This is when the doctor delivers “the monster” to Art, who abhors coffee due to his jitters. The monster sends Art into an unfathomable fit of conjecturing. The doctor prescribes hypnosis. 14 pages
The Immortal (1965, novelette) – 3/5 – Impossibly cruising through enemy Laagi territory, he visually derelict human craft named the La Chasse Gallerie is somehow under power and control by its pilot Raoul Penard. Aside from his knowledge of Laagi territory, Earth also wants to know how this pilot has been able to remain alive, albeit insane, for over 200 years. Walt Trey of the geriatrics Bureau teams up with pilot Major Jim Wander to find and bring the stray man’s mind back home. 38 pages ------ This story is a precursor to Dickson’s later novel The Forever Man (1986). The novel does a much better task of developing the Laagi race, but fails big time in developing the characters. Jim Wander and Raoul Penard return in the novel but Walt Trey is replaced by the svelte psychologist named Mary Gallagher. Stick to the short story… the novel will leave you screaming mad.
Miss Prinks (1954, shortstory) – 4/5 – When the clock struck thirteen o’clock on her apartment’s grandfather clock, Miss Prinks, “every inch a lady” (178), thought it queer. However, the very mannerly “scientist from the eighty-third Zanch dimension” (175) who materialized in her living room explained it quite clearly and, on his sudden departure, made several improvements on her “condition”. With her condition improved, Miss Prinks, in all regards a lady, leapt out of the building, over a train, and into the atmosphere. 13 pages
Home from the Shore (1963, novelette) – 2/5 – For three generations, an enclave of mankind has made the seabed their home. The Cadets from under the sea have made ideal trainees in the Landers’ space organization, the Academy, one of which is the legendary Johnny Joya. Returning from his service as a hero to the Cadets yet fugitive from the Landers, Johnny grudgingly acts as a “ringleader” for his people’s treaty with the Landers while coming to terms with his newfound fatherhood. 34 pages