Spacepaw — Gordon Dickson (1969)


Publisher: Berkley Medallion

First Berkley Edition, 1969

Cover Art: uncredited (please leave a message if you know—it’s been attributed to Paul Lehr, but that’s not confirmed)

Plot Synopsis (of cover): Three of the four astronauts moved very slowly toward the pristine rocketship. The fourth (and only non-obese) member of the crew, Dr. Cabot, lingered behind, holding his wife. It was a dangerous mission, but a necessary one. The Martian colony had been set upon by an unexplainable plague of tiny planets. The miniature worlds, each with their own magnetic field, were causing terrible interference in the ionosphere, as was evidenced by the almost constant aurora in the night sky. Communications and telescopy, therefore, were spotty at best, and the four-man crew (three of which were still on their way to the ship, but taking a little break to share a box of Pop Tarts) would have to rely on their wits alone when they discovered the origin of their plight. Dr. Cabot attempted to reassure his wife, Fay. “Sweetheart, I’m the only engineer willing to go up there. And I’m the only one with the technical know-how to cram my shipmates into a rocket clearly too small to fit even one of them along with the fuel necessary to escape Martian gravity, but that’s neither here nor there. I’ll come back safe and sound, I promise.” Fay replied, “Okay, honey. Have fun. Don’t rush back.” Dr. Cabot turned to his friend, Donkey Kong, who had been kind enough to drive Fay to the launch site after taking her to breakfast. “Donkey, please look after my wife while I’m away. I worry about her so, and it would put my mind at ease to know she’s taken care of.” With a sly grin, Fay said, “Oh, he’ll take care of me, all right. He always has.” Donkey Kong let out an ashamed growl. He wasn’t so ashamed that he would consider stopping his affair with his friend’s wife, of course, but he still felt bad. Luckily for them, Dr. Cabot didn’t pick up on any signs of deception from either of them. Not only was he a pretty oblivious guy, but his goodbyes were cut short as a crash and a curse echoed from the launch pad—one of the fat-stronauts had tripped and knocked over the ship. “Oh, darn it!” Dr. Cabot exclaimed, “I have to go. Say goodbye to our son Diddy for me!” Donkey Kong felt more shame, but, again, not enough to consider stopping his affair with his friend’s wife. She was the kind of girl a fella could really go ape for—more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Really top banana.

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: I’m really happy to get around to this book. Back in early 2015, I reviewed a book called Spacial Delivery by the same author, and I really enjoyed it. Spacepaw is the sequel, and takes place in the same setting. What’s that, clever, attentive, loyal reader? Why, yes, Spacial Delivery did notably feature aliens who were essentially sentient Kodiak bears. Why is there a gorilla on the cover of this book, you ask? That’s because Berkley Medallion fucked up. In the first few pages of the novel, the main human character is described as having the nickname “Ape” as a child, and the word “apelike” is used on the same page. Evidently, that’s all the description the guy who signs the requisition forms needed, because that’s the request he sent out. Eventually (holy shit, seven years later), they changed the cover. What’s great, however, is that they didn’t have someone do a new one—the artist painted a bear head over the gorilla head on the original cover and called it a day. I found this so charming that I bought both editions of the book. The original is posted above. Click here to see the 1976 cover. I really recommend you take the time to do so, as that smilin’ bear face is god-damned adorable. You can also click here to see the blurbs on the back, showing the change from “gorillalike” to “bearlike”. Okay, yes, I’m not done laughing, but I’ll do it privately and move on. Spacepaw is just as good as Spacial Delivery. The bear politics we know and love are still present. The honor code where one is expected not to outright lie but to dance around the truth really drives the plot here, and it’s an effective chauffeur. There’s also a delightful little mystery attached, complicated and enriched by Human-Bear relations. Also, some of the bears discover feminism, so be sure to file this appropriately next to your Dworkin. These books would make really good introductions to speculative fiction for younger readers, but are just as good for a smile from cynical assholes like myself. Again, if you want both books but don’t want to buy two books for some really stupid reason, the delightfully-named anthology “The Right To Arm Bears” exists and contains an extra short story on top of it. Buy! Buy! Buy! Send more money!

Rating: 9.1 Bear-terring Rams

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • With that mustache and the jumpsuit, how long do you think the guy in the foreground has been the captain of the Rikers Island Penny-Farthing Club?
  • With all those moons flying around, how is it that the poor gorilla isn’t getting konked on his massive fucking cashew of a noodle?
  • You think anyone ever taught Koko how to sign “I’m tripping balls”?

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