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Gordon R. Dickson introduces a medieval tapestry (perhaps The Lady and the Unicorn in Paris' Musée national du Moyen Âge)---filled with symbolic representations that make up the sum of the world---as the central framing metaphor for The Far Call (1978). Our idealistic young politician main character sees himself and everyone else as "caught up in its pattern" where "countless threads like his own make up the background." The brighter threads "would be the movers and shakers among the people" yet no one would be more than a single thread (35). The novel therefore is a sequence of scenes from a near future hyper-realistic tapestry, an intermingling of threads around a particular series of interrelated events: the launch of a spaceship and its journey to Mars. Although cast as a realistic "this-might-really-happen-in-the-1990s" type SF, Dickson aspires to some deeper metaphoric depth behind the vast cast that weaves in and out of the 414 pages.
Dickson's want-to-be-literary magnum opus fails spectacularly. Numerous non-medieval tapestry metaphors come to mind. I could say that The Far Call is afflicted with a certain bubonic bloat, where each character is a new bubo that reeks and drips... Or, The Far Call looks like a nice new pillow arrayed so beautifully on my bed, the label claims that each character is one of the goose down feathers but as my head touches I immediately realize it is all a deception as they are really each a piece of straw.
The Far Call is a dry and bloated attempt to write a realistic novel rich in character. This sort of realism related to an expedition to Mars would finally come to fruition with Kim Stanley Robinson's entirely more successful Red Mars (1993). Robinson's vision succeeds where Dickson fails.Read more ›
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