The Right to Arm Bears (Baen)
by Gordon R Dickson
Cover Artist: Kurt Miller
Review by Jon Guenther
Baen Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781476782058
Date: 01 November 2016 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
It's always good to see when a publisher revives classic works by some of the genre's widely acclaimed authors. I've admittedly never read any works by Gordon R. Dickson prior to this, but after my experience with The Right to Arm Bears, that's something I will remedy as I found it a somewhat surprisingly enjoyable experience.
This is actually two novellas by Dickson, along with a bonus story by Ben Bova, all set in Mr. Dickson's Dilbian universe. The stories in their respective order are:
All three stories center on the attempt of Humans to "industrialize" the home world of the Dilbians, a group of giant, bipedal bear-like creatures who drink lots of beer and speak English. Vying for the Dilbian resources are the Hemnoids, another humanoid species that I felt were never really described in any significant detail, somewhat to my surprise. What I found most appreciable about these stories was the sheer campy style and entertaining way they are told.
The thing I found least compelling about this book was the lack of a mature landscape as related to the Dilbian culture. I never got a sense for the Dilbian norms or really very much depth at all around their somewhat clan-like society. That much was most likely an homage to the idea of bear packs. There was no real mention of science, technology, religion, entertainment, or any of the other things one would expect to find in an SF novel relative to the Dilbians and even less of the Hemnoids. In many respects, it felt almost more as if Mr. Dickson may have been attempting to appeal more to a child readership than vying for the attention of adults.
All of my disappointment aside in the lack of alien development, the stories themselves were fast-paced. There was conflict and much satire on a variety of levels, which is a mainstay of any good SF trope. Those looking for talking animals who have developed odd nicknames for their Human allies (whom they call Shorties), will find much here not the least of which would be frequent chuckles at all the more subtle comparisons to the times in which the stores were written. It's just mostly good fun and a welcome departure, really, but The Right to Arm Bears will not find any audience beyond that.