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The Dragon in Lyonesse
Gordon R. Dickson
Tor Books, 384 pages


Art: Julie Bell
The Dragon in Lyonesse
Gordon R. Dickson
Gordon R. Dickson was born in 1923 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His first SF publication was the story "TressPass!" which appeared in Fantastic Story Quarterly #1 (Spring 1950) with Poul Anderson and his first solo publication was "The Friendly Man" in Astounding Science Fiction, February 1951. Dickson has won Hugo Awards for two novellas, "Soldier, Ask Not" in 1965 and "Lost Dorsai" in 1981, and a novelette, "The Cloak and the Staff" in 1981. Also, he won a Nebula Award for a novelette, "Call Him Lord" in 1966.

ISFDB Bibliography
Gordon R. Dickson Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by A.L. Sirois

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Gordon R. Dickson has been writing good, solid, well-plotted SF for several decades now. He's probably best known, to older readers, at least, as the author of the Dorsai novels. Personally, I don't think it's possible for him to write a bad book. I'm not saying this just because I have a soft spot in my head heart for his work, even though the first SF book I ever bought was an Ace Double, Delusion World and Spacial Delivery, both by Dickson, back in 1960 or so. No, Dickson is a pro: he knows how to plot, he knows how to create distinct, believable characters, and how to sustain a reader's interest.

The Dragon in Lyonesse is billed as a "light fantasy," and is part of a loosely connected series. The main character is Jim Eckert, a modern 20th century mathematician who, with his wife Angela, has been swept back in time to a 14th century world where magic works. In this, it's rather similar to territory previously mined by De Camp and Pratt in their Harold Shea books. What's most interesting about Dickson's novel, aside from the adventurous plot, is that his hero keeps coming up against the manners and mores of the 14th century. These look decidedly odd to a person from the 1990s. I can't recall seeing this done quite as deftly in any other story of its type.

This being "light" fantasy, there is little or none of the heart-wrenching Thomas Covenant-type angst (fine by me -- that gets old after a very short time, all that moaning and groaning), and the scope, though wide enough, remains pretty tightly focused. There are a few battle scenes, but mostly what Dickson does is to pose a series of puzzles and relatively small tasks for our scholarly hero to overcome. Jim can't help but think logically, which seems to be a skill lacking in 14th-century thought.

The main plot involves the latest attempt by the Dark Powers -- bodiless, mindless elemental forces -- to subvert the forces of History and Order. This time, they intend to attack the undersea realms of the Drowned Land and, more famously, Lyonesse, the final home of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. With the help of his human compatriots, a small hobgoblin and the Questing Beast, Jim takes on the task of tackling the Dark Powers.

A lot of the fun comes in meeting Arthurian characters such as Merlin, Morgan le Fay and King Pellinore. Dickson even manages to get in a sly dig at the way Pellinore was dumbed down by T.H. White in The Sword in the Stone. We get the sense that Dickson likes his Arthurian characters to maintain a Malloryesque gravity. In fact, all of the legendary characters are larger-than-life. It's a nice contrast against Jim Eckert, who often is unsure of himself if not to say fearful. He's a reluctant knight, tutored in the necessary skills -- jousting, sword-play -- by his friend, Sir Brian Neville-Smythe. It is by the virtue of his ordered, logical mind that Jim has been able to master certain precepts of magick, giving him some small reputation as a mage.

Well, that -- and his ability to turn himself (or, more humorously, parts of himself) into a whacking great dragon at will! Which is why Jim is known as Sir James, the Dragon Knight.

The problem is that the real mages know he is really just a duffer. Now, how to keep Morgan le Fay from finding that out, and crushing him like a grape? And how to keep the Dark Powers from capturing the magical land of Lyonesse?

The Dragon in Lyonesse is a very enjoyable book. My main problem with it was that I came in, as it were, in the middle of the party, having had no previous experience with this series. Thus I never did find out how and why Jim and Angela ended up in the 14th century, nor why it was a parallel universe. I mean, other than Dickson wanted magic to work, so he sent them to a world where it does. I remain unclear, also, as to why the Eckerts can't get back home. (I don't know why it is that Jim Eckert can change into a dragon, either, while Angela doesn't seem capable of anything other than some hand-wringing [she has a thankless part] -- but what the hell.)

Anyway, none of this distracts from the fast-moving, inventive plot. Dickson sets his limits and doesn't cheat, and in the meantime manages to give a nice medieval flavour to his goings-on. By this I mean to say that some of the magical set-pieces really do have an Arthurian feel to them. Dickson has obviously done his homework, and it shows. Discerning readers will appreciate it, but really, it's no more than one expects from a writer of Gordy Dickson's stature.

Copyright © 1999 by A.L. Sirois

A.L. Sirois walks the walk, too. He's a longtime member of SFWA and currently serves the organization as webmaster for the SFWA BULLETIN. His personal site is at http://www.w3pg.com/jazzpolice.


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