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‘The Calculus of His Under-Mind’
Sleepwalker’s World by Gordon R. Dickenson

1971, Daw, 158 pages

Thanks to Tony Cox for the loan of this book.

Gordon R. Dickson is an old writer who is new to me. Sleepwalker’s World is one of the very best science-fiction novels I have read, with it not departing from “hard” technology-based science-fiction principles and also delivering the kind of social metaphysics one would expect of Phillip K. Dick or Gene Wolfe and the narrative pace of Robert E. Howard or Roger Zelazny.

I have only reviewed one book from which I could not mine a pleasing title from the prose, that being an economics book by a libertarian. Dickson is so good that I had to discard the following titles:

“A Dark Joy”

“All the Agony of the World”

“As Close as Fingers on the Same Hand’

“The Old Man”

Rafe is earth’s preeminent astronaut, having been on the moon experimenting with deep space flight options for over a year. In a phone conversation with the man most able to crack the mystery, Rafe finds out he has been bought off by management. This is mighty troubling as the population of earth, in peril of mass starvation, is suffering from a worldwide sleep derangement syndrome due to the massive machines used to mine the earth’s core for energy to produce food. Predictably, the corporate plutocrats of earth are quite alright with most of humanity locked into a passive, zombie-like state.

Rafe, an Odysseus of the Future, outwits management and uses his alpha male abilities of mind and body and his exceptional will, which includes immunity to sleep deprivation, in order to get to the bottom of the mysterious power behind the plutocratic council—a shadow behind a curtain of platitudes, behind a veil of lies—which he seeks to rend with a Conan-like ferocity, making Sleepwalker’s world possibly the closest modern science-fiction story to Robert E. Howard’s swords and sorcery classics which pitted warriors against wizards.

Below is one quote from Dickson’s outstanding adventure of the human condition:

“The broken and discarded things came clustering around him, whispering at him to give up and agree… Still, even as he ran from the coercive chorus of their whispering, the illogical conviction formed in him that somewhere, even here, there was a firm weapon that would not crumble when he tried to use it…”

Sleepwalker’s World has a nuanced and deep supporting cast of companions, dupes and villains and manages to combine logic and heroism in a manner that would surely make Aristotle smile like a child and Simonides grin like a wolf.

This may be the best one-off science-fiction yarn I have ever read.

Drink Deep of Night: Song of the Secret Gardener

Add Comment
WellRead EdJune 15, 2019 6:41 PM UTC

Check out Dickson's 'Wolf and Iron' for an interesting trip, and 'The Dragon and the George' for laughs.