Book Review: Earthman’s Burden

Book Name: Earthman’s Burden
Author: Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson
First Published: 1957

Poul Anderson is known for his larger than life adventure stories of political satire and in the direct and inextricable connection between human liberty and expansion into space. A great supporter of the space program, Anderson’s science fiction stories took great care in using provable science in its objects and settings, the only exception being the use of the theory of faster than light travel. Gaining his baccalaureate degree with honors in physics, Anderson made no real attempt to work in that field. Instead, he published his first story while still an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, and then began his career as a free-lance writer after his college graduation in 1948. In 1953, Anderson married Karen Kruse and left Minnosota with her to live in the San Francisco Bay area. Their daughter, Astrid, was born soon after the move. They made their home in Orinda, California, near Berkeley. After Poul’s death, his wife donated his typewriter and desk to the local bookstore in Berkley, where the author had given readings over the years.

Gordon R. Dickson was born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1923. After the death of his father, he moved with his mother to Minneapolis, Minnesota. He served in the United States Army, from 1943 to 1946, and received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota, in 1948. From 1948 through 1950 he attended the University of Minnesota for graduate work. It is at the University where he met his fellow anthology collaborator, Poul Anderson.

At the start of Earthman’s Burden, Ensign Alexander Braithwaite Jones crash lands on a planet 500 light years from earth. He is rescued by a cuddly race of aliens that resemble over-sized teddybears. The Hokas have the ability to absorb any trace of Earth culture they encounter and reproduce it with devastatingly unpredictable and hilarious results. You’ll see the wild wild west, an Italian style opera featuring a teddybear Don Giovanni, an atmospheric Victorian England featuring a Hoka Sherlock Holmes, a science fiction space patrol featuring a Scottish accented Hoka space engineer, pirates and French legionnaires.

Underscoring the fun, is a witty satire about the burden to raise up these “primitive” aliens so that they can join the space federation as full citizens. Jones, the appointed ambassador plenipotentiary to Toka, begins to understand the complexity of his aliens charges and that they are not the silly innocents that they appear on the surface. It is a direct commentary on the concept that the English poet Rudyard Kipling wrote about in his poem The White Man’s Burden that he wrote for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and defined the English idea of imperialism that was commonplace during the 19th century.

I first encountered this novel in my early twenties when I was looking for a light summer read at the bookstore. With teddybear aliens on the cover, I did not expect anything of substance. Inside the book I discovered a world with more depth than I expected and a satire that made me think about I viewed the world and my place in it. Over the years, the novel tends to come up in conversation, especially among vintage science fiction buffs such as myself. It is a novel well worth reading and adding to your collection. It will delight you with humor and leave you feeling uplifted. My favorite story is the first one about the sheriff of canyon gulch.

Stories included in the anthology:

    “The Sheriff of Canyon Gulch”
    “Don Jones”
    “In Hoka Signo Vinces”
    “The Adventure of the Misplaced Hound”
    “Yo Ho Hoka!”
    “The Tiddlywink Warriors”

Earthman's Burden Book CoverEarthman’s Burden is not available as an ebook, but you can still find copies for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and at your local used book stores.

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