Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Fri May 04 01:07:55 EDT 1990

Raymond's Reviews #43

%T Wolf and Iron
%A Gordon Dickson
%I TOR Books
%D May 1990
%O hardcover, US$18.95 (reviewed in galley)
%P 512
%G 0-312-93214-6

Perhaps I'm in a minority, but I wish Gordon Dickson would stick to writing humor like Spacepaw and the Hoka stories. As the years go on, each of his `serious' novels gets more stiff and sententious, and the bargain-basement Nietzscheanism that passes for philosophical content gets more tiresome (and sometimes perilously approaches Fascist worship of the genetic volk-hero). I'm afraid the best I can say for this latest eruption is that it's not as awesomely, grandiosely bad as was The Final Encyclopedia.

Let's start with the premise. The U.S. is supposed to have undergone a collapse so serious that transport, communications and food distribution totally break down and large fractions of the population die or revert to barbarism -- without the excuse of warfare or ecological collapse and with the country's infrastructure and physical plant essentially intact! No one who's seen the speed with which modern market economies recover from even the effects of major warfare is going to manage to believe this for two seconds.

Ah, but Dickson believes in Inexorable Trends of History. His protagonist, Jeebee Walthar, is one of the developers of "Quantitative Social Dynamics". He is trekking across the ruined U.S. to his brother's ranch, where he hopes to somehow perfect the theory and use it to (re)build a stable civilization. This wasn't a very credible notion even when Asimov originated it in the Foundation series four decades ago; in the 1990s (after chaos theory and the persistent failures of predictive economic modelling) it's gotten pretty threadbare. Still, if it weren't for the novel's other flaws I could manage to suspend disbelief in this much.

Along the way, Jeebee befriends a wolf. The wolf is a far more interesting and competent character than Jeebee. They fall in with a trio of peddlers; one is a predictably young and beautiful woman with whom Jeebee predictably falls in love. Are we cliched out yet?

The book takes a 90-degree turn along with Jeebee's course when he leaves the peddlers to strike north towards his brother's ranch. Mauled by a bear, he loses weeks recovering and finds he must winter over in a cave. The rest of the narrative is a sort of cross between the Swiss Family Robinson and a Louis L'Amour western, as Jeebee toughens up and slowly builds and scavenges what he needs for survival. Eventually (and highly improbably) his sweetheart finds her way to him and they settle down to an idyllic B-movie Frontier Family existence with their wolf and a baby, Quantum Social Dynamics and the rest of the world completely forgotten. Sheesh!

What we have here is the front end of a rather mediocre after-the-holocaust SF novel grafted on to the rear end of a survivalist tract. And the writing...oy vey iz mir, the writing! Except for the scenes with Wolf and a couple of action sequences it plods like a broken-down truck horse. Philosophical failings aside, Dickson at least used to be able to keep a story moving -- this one sadly, takes teeth-gritting effort to plow through.

Wolf And Iron gets April's Golden Turkey award for Conspicuous Waste of Paper by A Major Talent. Once, long ago, in the days of The Genetic General and Neuromancer and The Tactics Of Mistake I really liked Dickson's work. I wish I could say I still did.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Fri May 04 01:07:55 EDT 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>