Sunday, April 20, 2008

Review - "Lost Dorsai", "The Cloak and the Staff", and "Grotto of the Dancing Deer"

Michael Whelan
1981 Hugo Winner for Best Professional Artist
1981 World Fantasy Award Winner for Best Artist

For the second time ever and the second year in a row an author won two awards in the short fiction categories.

"Lost Dorsai"
by Gordon R. Dickson
1981 Hugo Winner for Best Novella

Perhaps this story would be more effective if you are a fan of Dickson's Dorsai universe. I'm not and Dickson does not provide much in the way of exposition in this story which makes it hard to follow at some points.

A group of highly skilled professionals from a planet where everyone is a mercenary are tricked into taking a contract that puts them in the unwinnable position of defending a fortress with a marching band against an army of thousands. One of those mercenaries happens to be a pacifist which is why he left home to be the bandmaster. To Dickson's credit he doesn't go the completely obvious route with the concept but he makes up for that in other places. I found the characters to be interesting but it wasn't enough for me. I found it to be a fine attempt that I just couldn't connect with.

"The Cloak and the Staff"
by Gordon R. Dickson
1981 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette

This on the other hand I found to be a very effective story. A highly placed slave of invincible alien conquerors rebels in little ways until he is found by the real resistance. Dickson does a suburb job in setting up the desperation of humanity being reduced to barely tolerated livestock. The villains are distant impersonal forces while the humans are are lost. It's a bleak, depressing tale that I think works because it takes time to set up the desperation. It makes "The Cloak and the Staff" well worth checking out.

"Grotto of the Dancing Deer"
by Clifford D. Simak
1981 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story
1980 Nebula Winner for Best Short Story

Simak's story falls under the heading of "tribute Hugos". He was at the end of his career and this not particularly good story won both the Nebula and Hugo. The only way I can take it is that they were given on the basis of his career. An archaeologist who has been on a dig at a cave with extensive paintings goes back for one more look, meets a mysterious local who helped him on the dig, and finds a hidden set of paintings and artifacts. You're probably able to guess where this goes from just that brief description and the story offers zero surprises. The characters are flat despite the opportunity for some depth and the story appears to exist mainly to justify it's blindingly obvious twist.