Mission to Universe by Gordon R. Dickson (1965) – They say you can’t go back again, and I’m beginning to think that it’s true when it comes to reading some of these classic science fiction novels. This novel by science fiction (and fantasy) master, Gordon R. Dickson, does not hold up well. It does, however, show that we’ve come a long way, baby.
The story itself is basic space opera. The captain of a phase ship capable of instant shifting from one galaxy to another finds himself adjusting to an integrated crew (with women!) as he tries to find a world to colonize before Earth’s increasing population destroys the planet. He’s not sure how the phase thing works or how it was discovered, but it seems to take a lot of crewmen computing galactic positions.
With any good story, there are two major developments – that of the character and that of the plot. Perhaps the formula hadn’t been fleshed out adequately in the sixties. Neither the captain nor the story get much growth. After a promising beginning where the captain realizes USA politics are not going to let him launch the phase ship, he steals the ship along with the testing crew and a few of his friends and sets off to find a habitable world on his own.
His major personality trait is that he’s afraid unless he’s an unemotional robot, the crew will fall apart and not respect his authority. Thank heavens there are parts of the ship he can seal off as “women’s quarters” and provide nursing and administration jobs for them. Oddly enough, he didn’t bring a doctor with him, convinced his one year of medical school decades before was enough. As with many of his decisions, he’s egregiously wrong.
The planets they find are frequently innocent in appearance but always have some dark underbelly. The captain, now a general, makes some poor decisions. “Let’s send out two hunting parties in different directions far from the ship. Oh, isn’t it odd that the herbivores run when they see us approaching?” After the loss of several crew members and an encounter with several races who have slid down the evolutionary scale, the captain decides to return to Earth. Some of the de-evolved aliens have nice planets and can be dealt with.
That’s when one of his friends goes nuts and tries to destroy the tapes containing their route home, so the general captain shoots him. Then, there’s some shoehorned, instant romance between him and the nurse that would make Keanu Reeves’ and Sandra Bullock’s heads spin. Finally, the general, with stiff upper lip, prepares for what he assumes is a court-marshal for stealing the phase ship in the first place but instead there’s a much happier, fairy tale ending.
I’m not sorry I read this, but I am glad we have women captains and more well developed characters and plots.