Gordon R. Dickson, Naked to the Stars
I haven’t previously been a huge fan of Gordon Dickson. I found what I’ve read of his stuff to carry an atmosphere of 1970’s space opera that is entertaining but not something I would read continually, or even once every year. The main appeal was a kind of nostalgia for the time, roughly in junior high school, when I used to play the Traveller tabletop RPG, which cribbed most of its setting and backstory from Asimov’s Foundation, but got its atmosphere, as I imagine, from Dickson’s Dorsai sequence.
I found Naked to the Stars at a library fundraiser sale and decided to give it a go, and it turned out to be a great choice. This is much more thoughtful novel than I remember of other Dickson.
The story follows Cal Truant, a footsoldier in the Combat Services of an expansionist human interstellar government. During one engagement, Cal blacks out, and this event leads to his discharge from the Services. Not comfortable as a civilian, Cal joins the Contact Services, an unarmed service arm responsible for making up with conquered peoples after the fighting is over. This confronts him with his father’s pacifist beliefs, in rebellion against which he joined the Services to begin with.
The book does show its age. The hyper-competent protagonist, the relatively unimaginative alien species, and the only female character appearing as a love interest all date the novel. A very straightforward, unembellished style also date the writing, but allows a whole lot of story to be fit into a 160-page book. Despite all this, there is str0ng character development in the protagonist at least, in fact Cal’s coming to terms with his father’s pacifism is the central story, so that its hard to remember that this book predates, say, The Forever War, by 10 years.
Overall, this was an excellent book, and its convinced me I ought to be reading much more Gordon Dickson than I have been.