Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Earthman's Burden - Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson

1957; 189 pages.  Genre : 50's Science Fiction; Humor.  New Author(s)? : No.  Overall Rating : 5*/10.

    Earthman's Burden consists of six short stories (each about 30 pages long) about the Hokas, a race of Teddy Bear-like creatures on an alien planet.  You also meet their human plenipotentiary, Alexander Jones, and his wife, Tanni.  All but one of the stories originally appeared in various Sci-Fi magazines in between 1951 and 1955.  A couple "interplanetary memos" were later inserted to try to give some cohesion to the tales, but frankly, it wasn't necessary.

What's To Like...
      Hokas love everything about earth - our movies, our books, our history, our radio transmissions.  They take everything as absolute truth, so if they see a movie, say, about ancient Rome, they immediately try to build a settlement on their planet Toka to mimic it.

   Each of the stories in Earthman's Burden is set in one of these mimicries.  Specifically, the settings are (in order) : (1) the Wild West; (2) Don Juan; (3) Space Travel; (4) Sherlock Holmes; (5) Pirates; and (6) the French Foreign Legion.

    The stories all have a similar template.  Alex awakes to find the Hokas embracing a new bit of terra-culture; he gets embroiled in their antics; some sort of crisis arises; mayhem ensues, Alex devises an ingenious solution by going "in character", and all turns out well because of (or in spite of) the best-laid plans of the Hokas/Alex.

Kewlest New Word...
Tussock : an area of raised solid ground in a marsh or bog that is bound together by roots of low vegetation.

    "Great jumping rockets!" exclaimed the other Hoka.  "Don't tell me the Coordinator didn't recognize you?"
    "It's the moonlight, probably," said the first Hoka.  "All clear and on green now, Coordinator?"
    "I- I-," stammered Alex.
    "Aye, aye!" repeated Jax Bennison crisply.  (pg. 68)

    Alex discovered the consensus among them was that the captain was becoming too obsessed with his navigation to pay proper attention to the running of the ship.  No one had been hanged for several weeks, and there hadn't been a keelhauling for over a month.  Many a Hoka standing on the sun-blistered deck cast longing glances at the cool water overside and wished he would be keelhauled (which was merely fun on a planet without barnacles).  There was much fo'c'sle talk about what act could be committed dastardly enough to rate the punishment.  (pg. 135)

"Damn the tiddlywinks!  Full speed ahead!"  (pg. 186)
    The stories are cute but formulaic and shallow.  This was my second Hoka book, and chronologically precedes the other one, which is reviewed here.  Frankly, I didn't find Earthman's Burden as entertaining as Hoka!.

    Maybe it was because Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson were still feeling their way around in the series.  Maybe it was because the attempt to string these six stories into a coherent overall novel was ill-advised.  Maybe it was because of the horrid printing job - each page was set on about a 10-degree angle.

    In any event, all six tales are still amusing to read, and a pleasant break if you're plodding through a 1200-page Space Opera like I am.  It's uninspiring fluff, but that's okay at times.  Anderson and Dickson would subsequently  tweak and refine their style, and their efforts would pay off when Hoka! came out.  And I do appreciate it when authors evolve and improve with each work they put out.  5 Stars (out of 10).

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